Mission Possible: Veterans Plow Into New Career
Transitioning from military life to farming seemed natural in many ways to Tim and Dawn Smith. They said both careers are part of a bigger community where dedicated people share a common goal.
“In the military, and in farming, you have a focused mission and know what you’re doing is important,” said Tim, 48, who spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force. “As farmers, we’re helping feed communities.”
Dawn, 49, retired after 20 years in the Air Force. She said she was frustrated the first 10 years after military retirement while searching for work that gave her a sense of purpose.
She and Tim found their passion when they bought 40 acres in the southern Tallapoosa County Liberty City community near Notasulga. Their new property became Lone Oak Farm.
Tim grew up on a family farm in Citronelle where they raised beef cattle, fruits and vegetables. He and Dawn, a Michigan native, met in the Air Force. They married and raised their son, Zach, while traveling the globe and serving their country.
Tim was called to the ministry during his last six years in the service. After retirement, he became pastor of First Baptist Church in Reeltown.
The couple built what they described as their “dream retirement home” in Eclectic. However, Tim said he felt led to move closer to his church and a rural lifestyle.
“I mentioned to a friend that we might be looking for some acreage, and literally in 10 weeks we had sold our house, bought this farm and moved to Liberty City,” Tim said. That was the fall of 2017, and a few months later they moved into their new home at the farm.
For the Smiths, the days since have been filled with a lot of hard work, sweat and satisfaction. They also made plenty of mistakes — which they described as learning experiences — but said they couldn’t be happier.
“It’s just been an amazing journey,” said Dawn. “It is so gratifying to see people who have eaten the beef we raised or the vegetables we grew and hear them tell you how good it was. There’s nothing better than a grandmother who tells me how much her grandchildren loved my strawberries.”
The Smiths are involved in the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a not-for-profit organization that helps military veterans begin farming and supports them through the transition. The Smiths use the group’s “Homegrown By Heroes” label, which was created with help from the Farm Credit System.
And like a strong military, the Smiths believe farming helps support and protect America.
“We both think our nation and our military benefit from the food we grow,” Dawn said. “As our population rises, the need will continue to grow. Food security is a national security issue.”
The Smiths raise beef cattle, which is marketed to individuals who purchase an eighth, quarter or half a calf for their freezers. They also grow herbs, tomatoes and other produce in a hoop house. This year, they had a quarter of an acre of strawberries and have plans to enlarge it to 1 ¼ acres next year.
Tim describes himself as a big-picture guy and Dawn as a detail person. Both say they are thankful for help from other farmers who willingly share their knowledge and experience.
“God has blessed us with this little piece of dirt, and we use it to provide something for somebody else,” Tim said. “It’s rewarding to know we grew something that looks good, tastes good and is good for you.”
Find the Smiths’ farm on Facebook at Lone Oak Farm in Notasulga.
For more information on the coalition, visit FarmVetCo.org.