Forced into retirement, National Guard Veteran Desma Brooks turned her excess homegrown produce into a thriving business.
After 18 years of service working as a logistical coordinator for the United States National Guard, Desma Brooks suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq where she was responsible for production control of broken military equipment.
Forced into retirement, Brooks had no plans on what to do with her future. “It was really odd not having that day-to-day routine. It’s the same outfit and routine every day,” she said. “Coming out of the military, I had to figure out what to do with myself.”
Brooks had grown her own produce for her family for years, but her largest garden yet left her with an excess supply that she couldn’t freeze or preserve. She drove the freshly-picked selection to her local farmer’s market where 5 dollars bought her a spot to sell her homegrown fruits and vegetables. Every piece of produce she offered sold.
“I figured I could do this for a living. I love to grow produce, and I love to feed people.”
The following year, a neighbor’s 5-acre plot became home to an even larger garden by Brooks. After recognizing the demand for a variety of produce from her customers at the farmer’s market, Brooks planted certain fruit and vegetable types for the first time, like watermelons and Swiss chard, which saw the same success.
“Offering a bountiful harvest will bring customers to your table,” Brooks said. “From that very first season at the farmer’s market, it just bloomed into something more than I initially expected, and I’d like to see it get even bigger.”
Located in Indiana, Brooks gardens under the name 3rd Time’s a Farm. Her produce dons a Homegrown by Heroes label, an official farmer-veteran branding program by the Farmer Veteran Coalition that informs the consumer the item was produced by a military veteran.
Brooks said she especially loves that she can give back to her community through her fresh produce. Farmer’s market customers appreciate convenient access to homegrown fruits and vegetables, she said. Brooks also provides fresh items to 15 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers, a program where community members can purchase memberships to local farms and receive packages of fresh, farm-picked greens.
As her business began to expand, Brooks looked into its potential and the future. The VA Accelerator program, created to assist disabled veterans in establishing their own company or to grow an existing business, assisted Brooks in creating a comprehensive business plan that included a 5-year outlook and the costs and profit aspects of wholesale versus direct-to-customer retail.
‘They helped me see long term,” Brooks said. “They helped me really understand what it took to put a business plan together, which I needed in order to seek outside funding for my business.”
Brooks is the first veteran in the state of Indiana to finish the Accelerator program. In addition to assistance with her business plan, the program also provided her with information on every aspect of running your own business, including marketing skills, customer base identification, and financial planning.
“All of the resources and assignments through the Accelerator program are pieced together into something pretty amazing. I don’t know where I’d be without it,” Brooks said. “I think it was a blessing.”
The Accelerator program is also constructing a website and brochures for Three Time’s a Farm, complete with words and photos by Brooks.
Brooks is looking forward, and hopes to produce other homegrown items under her farm’s name. Installing beehives next year will allow her to harvest honey and beeswax for lip balm and other homemade products. Once she funds a budget for infrastructure, she hopes to add a cold storage facility for picked produce to her already-established hoop greenhouse which allows her to plant and grow produce during the winter months.
Brooks would also like to explore providing training options on her farm for former military members transitioning out of the armed forces.
“There is something healing about working in the dirt and tending to the land,” she said. “We could feed America if we put our minds to it.”
Brooks stressed the importance of buying homegrown produce right in your community.
“If every family in Wayne County ate one meal that includes local produce every day, we could save so much oil every week. If we all ate locally, it would put much more money back into the community. It could change the way we do things.”
The VA Accelerator Program (www.vaaccelerator.com) is the Department of Veterans Affairs innovation to help Veterans in all phases of entrepreneurship, from initial self-assessment and business plan preparation through the launch and growth of successful businesses. The VA Accelerator Program is currently in the process of raising capital to be able to give back to more veterans. If you are interested in helping with this process, you can directly visit the campaign page at https://campaign.aboutgiving.org.