After spending most of his career serving in the military, U.S. Army veteran Dylan Thomas knew it was time to return to his farming roots. With their belongings packed and shipped, he and his wife, Abbi, left their home in Washington State and moved to Marcellus, Mich., to start their very own farm. Thomas knew he needed to be some place serene, away from the city; he wanted to connect with the earth and nourish his desire to cultivate the land. The Tennessee native was no stranger to farming before founding Two Pines Farm in 2012, tucked away in the country of his wife’s home state; he grew up on a hog farm as a child.
“We knew that farming would give me a way to give back and help other people, and also be able to spend time outside,” he says. “We wanted it to be something our family could do.” The farmer found more than a new lease on life within Michigan agriculture – he was welcomed by a community supportive of farmer veterans, as well as initiatives to help him through the transition. After founding Two Pines Farm, Thomas spoke at a Farmer Veteran Coalition event where a fellow veteran told him about Michigan AgrAbility, a service helping farmers with medical impairments pursue their chosen agriculture lifestyle.
AgrAbility helps veterans lay out achievable farm plans while transitioning back to civilian life. The program, a joint partnership between Michigan State University Extension and Easter Seals Michigan, is funded by donations and a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to research and develop farming tools, equipment and methods so farmers can work more efficiently.
It’s no wonder many veterans take to farming – the hard work and task-oriented nature suit them.
Assisting Farmer Veterans
“Farmers are very practical, and they need practical solutions that will make their lives easier,” says Ned Stoller, director and the agricultural engineer and assistive technology professional for AgrAbility. Stoller assists farmer veterans by assessing their needs
and developing meaningful solutions. He says they are often very creative and have already accommodated to their work to an extent before he arrives. “My job is to listen, think outside the box and connect the dots.” Like the majority of veterans, Thomas takes pride in self- efficiency and hard work – in earning what’s his. But soon after learning about AgrAbility, he realized what it could offer. “I realized the possibility of me farming could go away because of my injuries,” he says. “I spoke with Stoller, and he knows farming. He has passion not only for farming, but to help other people and get them in the right direction.”