After several years of fighting both the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the USDA, Mark Baker of Bakers Green Acres recently announced what seemed like to many, including Baker himself, to be a long struggle of financial hardship and personal stress simply to end up where the authorities wanted him to begin with – out of business and out of sight.
Thankfully, it appears that Baker has rethought his decision and will be keeping his farm open albeit in a slightly different capacity. Instead of a business enterprise, Bakers Green Acres will be converted to an operation that exists for the purpose of helping veterans to rebuild their lives after serving in combat. As opposed to a focus on production and commerce, the farm will now be focused on education and rehabilitation. It will be a place where veterans will come to live, learn skills, and begin to heal the scars of war. Baker himself is a 20-year military veteran.
We started that process [to sell our farm] and as we went down that road I realized, for a lot of reasons, that it wasn’t the best thing to do. For a lot of us. Not just me, and not just my family but there’s other people involved as well. I got a lot of input about it. Some of it was heart wrenching, about closing this down.
Now this whole thing, the reason why I’m talking to you right now, came out of a bad situation but a lot of good has come out of it. We have a really good network of people that we can count on right now and we’ve explored a lot of things.
I’ve shared a lot of things about farming with you and done a lot of teaching. Our Anyone Can Farm program has done really well and to let that go was probably not in the best interest of the greater good of all of us.
I kind of had this epiphany, a lot of thoughts, a lot of people came into my mind, a lot of ideas, it all kind of came together. I think what we are going to do is we are going to transition the farm from a production outfit–and that is where we produce animals and goods and things like that and we trade those for dollars and then those dollars go back into the farm to build facilities and pay employees–and we’re going to transition from that into a teaching transition facility. Our focus is going to be veterans.
I see the real need out there of veterans that would like to get their lives back together, transition out of military service, and I think the farm is a good place to make that happen. The stories that I’m hearing now are not good and I think we can make a dent in a lot of that tragedy.
The long and short of it is, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for this program and I’m 99% sure that we’re going to do it. So we will be keeping the farm open and pressing on with what we’ve been doing. The house however will be used to house 4 or 5 guys and then they will work here.
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Our workshops will increase to one every other weekend and the idea there is so we can train people to train. Train the trainer is what we want to do.
We do pastured poultry, we do pastured pork, we rotationally graze beef, we milk cows, we do produce, we have a kitchen and we make things in the kitchen, we do charcuterie–and there’s a lot to know there–we butcher large animals and small animals and chickens. So we do a lot of things and we want to teach that, we want to pass that on to groups of people. And then I also want to have it so that when we have somebody that needs our help someplace and they can’t come to us, we want to be able to go to them.
I see a great thing here coming out of this tragedy. The vets that I had here this weekend, we were just reminiscing old times… and we want to get them the tools that they need to succeed when they come out of the military and we just feel as though the farm provides those tools. They’re close to the earth, their hands are in the dirt, they’re eating good food. We’re going to show them some of the disciplines of being in the farming business.
It seemed like a good idea to sell the farm and get out of this but as we’ve gone along it’s not a good idea. It’s not good, it’s not good. So we will not. We will not do it.
We will stand and change our focus from production farming to transitioning farming for veterans, their friends, their families and associates. Is there room for you in this if you’re not a veteran? Absolutely. Absolutely. These are the people you need to wrap your arms around because they’re the ones that said, ‘I will stand in the gap for you. No matter what I will give my life for you.’ I sat with several of them this weekend and I couldn’t believe that I’ve been in the business of chasing dollars for the last ten years when I could have been taking care of them. I can’t believe where I was with that but I believe possibly I needed to get some of this training that I’ve gotten in the last few years in order to do this. That’s the direction that I’m going, if anybody wants to come with me, please come along. …anyone can farm.