Brandon Best served his country for four years. Now his country is serving him. Best served in the Army from 1996-2000, a year of which was spent on a hardship tour in South Korea, working as a cook. “I saw a lot of hungry soldiers,” he said.
During high school Best worked in a restaurant and enjoyed the creative side of it, but finding a job as a civilian was harder. “I wanted to do something tangible that I could look back on at the end of the day and see what I have done or not done,” he said. “It’s hard to find in normal jobs.”
So why did he choose to go into farming? “I ask myself this question often, especially when it’s really hot out,” he said. “I needed something to get away from the TV and the news. It was really dragging on my happiness.”
Best and his wife Deena, a Washington State employee, spent about four years looking for farm property. Best had his heart set on buying 20 acres of land, but then he noticed five-acre lots were going for $350,000 or more with little more than a house and a garage on them. “It’s not affordable any more,” Best says.
He drove past a three-and-a-half-acre lot near the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 603 for four years. Then he started taking second looks. He talked with a listing agent and the seller, and found out his wife was Facebook friends with the owner who had been trying to sell the house for two years. Dena hadn’t mentioned the property because it wasn’t 20 acres.
Looking for financing was the next step. “It’s really tough to get a farm loan nowadays,” Best said. “You have to come in with a business plan and so many years of education in your field and so many years of experience in your field. Nobody can just start a farm out of the blue, and go into farming.”
Best was able to avoid that because he bought residential property. He and his family moved into the house on November 1, 2017.
Farm equipment came next; a Mahindra tractor and a water wheel planter. “That’s my new car payment,” Best said.
A Facebook friend told Best about Homegrown by Heroes, a non-profit branding program under the Farmer Veteran Coalition. The label sets veterans apart from other farmers in the agriculture business and gives citizens a way to recognize and support veterans.
Veterans from any service period with an “honorable” or “general” discharge are eligible, as long as they have 50 percent ownership and management of the business. Currently there are over 1,100 Homegrown by Heroes operations throughout the United States. Best is the only one in Lewis County.
Another advantage to joining the Farmer Veteran Coalition is the availability of $5,000 grants to help buy equipment. “In the past six or seven years the coalition has given out $5,000 grants to veteran farmers who apply for help to buy equipment and supplies for their farm,” Best said. The coalition has given out about $15 million dollars in that time.
Working in the dirt has been found to help those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and other conditions familiar to veterans. Dirt therapy can be a powerful tool.
Best has help in the fields from his parents, Gary and Marci, and his two sons, Callen (7) and Cael (5). When Callen was younger, he was into toy Tonka trucks. “He would grab a handful of green beans from my bucket, put them in his Tonka truck and push the green beans all the way to the end of the row – usually losing half of them because of the vibration. Then he would take them and put them in his bucket,” Best said. “He would do that for about two hours. He’d be out there in his T-shirt and shorts, no shoes on, no boots, just back and forth. And by the end of two hours, I had my two or three buckets full and he had his. And I’d say, ‘It looks like you did a lot of work. Good job.’”
The farm at 139 Highway 603 just outside Chehalis opened on June 2. Hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Friday through Monday, and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Fresh vegetables from the garden, flower baskets in shades of red, white and blue and other local products will be sold.
Family activities planned for the coming months include weekly kid’s movies starting September 23 and a farm dinner on September 8.