Rob Burnett has a vision. The 33-year-old U.S. Army veteran and Eldersburg resident purchased two mini-Hereford beef cattle in November 2015 and has spent two years looking for a Carroll County farm to call his own.
"One of the biggest challenges has been looking for property," Burnett said. "I'm trying to buy and not lease. A lot of people have family that already [own] property, but for me, buying land has been almost impossible because of the startup costs. It's incredibly difficult for a beginning farmer."
Burnett ended his term of service as a sergeant first class in the Army after serving for 12 years. He now works full-time for the Department of Defense and cares for his cattle in the evenings and on the weekends at Tom Waters' Gwarterhole Farm in Westminster.
"I have a flexible work schedule, so I come and work on the evenings and weekends," Burnett explained. "I'm there for any shots they need, vet visits and putting out hay. … They are grassfed, and I'm interested in keeping them grassfed. They're on grass in spring, summer and fall, and go to hay in late fall and winter."
Burnett established Good Run Farm LLC last year.
"We've done all the basic stuff like setting up a farm account to buy hay and animals, and setting up the limited liability company's articles of formation," Burnett said.
He said he has also joined Maryland Farmlink and the Carroll County Farm Bureau in the hopes of finding land to purchase. He became a Farmer Veteran Coalition member, and he also plans to apply to Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture's Beginner Farmer Training Program.
Burnett said he's also reached out to the county, University of Maryland Extension, the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp., the Farm Service Agency, and MidAtlantic Farm Credit. He is also pursuing his Master of Business Administration at Strayer University.
"There's resources for veterans, and I can do a [Department of Veterans Affairs] loan," Burnett said. "There are no acreage restrictions, but it has to pass VA inspection guidelines and have an existing structure on it."
Carroll County Agricultural Land Preservation program manager Deborah Bowers said Burnett has been calling her office for two years.
"He will call and ask about the farms he's interested in purchasing, and he wants to know if it's possible to enroll in the program," Bowers said. "We try to help him out. We call up our mapping system and take a look at it. We look at number of acres, development potential and soil quality. We want to be sure that it will be a good farm from a conservation standpoint."
Burnett said he's realized farming has a "steep learning curve."
"A lot of farmers are willing to talk to you, but they've done it for so long that they don't think about the small things I don't know," Burnett said. "While in the service, I learned resilience, order and discipline. Farming has a lot of challenges, and I think the Army helped me learn to deal with that stress and how to adapt and overcome."
Burnett said Waters, of Gwarterhole Farm, has become his mentor and he's grateful that Waters has given him the opportunity to learn, even though he doesn't have his own land. Waters established Gwarterhole Farm a few years ago. He has 25 mini-Herefords that he purchased from a farmer in Westminster.
"I met Rob through a friend about two years ago," Waters said. "Rob was looking to start a farm, and we're new to farming ourselves. Our friend thought I would be a good connection for him. I could go over the mistakes I made and pass the information to him and his wife."
Burnett purchased a mini-Hereford cow and steer from Waters. Burnett's cow calved in July, and Waters allows Burnett to keep them on his farm.
"Herefords are genetically going back to the way they used to be when they came from England," Waters said. "There's a real movement to make them smaller and get them back to their original size. I like them because they're docile, good with children and not intimidating. The tallest one is 41 inches and about 1,000 pounds."
Burnett's wife, Heidi, is a special education teacher in Howard County. The couple has been married for two years. She admitted that she was a little apprehensive about her husband's agricultural aspirations.
"It's a lot to take on, but Rob is an all-in kind of person. When he gets something in his head, he will do whatever it takes to make it happen," Heidi said.
"He's not a desk job kind of guy. He'll keep his desk job, but that's not what he wants to do. I think it's a nice hobby to have. I want our children to know what hard work means. I think it's pretty cool what he's done so far and what he's learned. I like the idea of having a lot of property for the kids to run around on."
Rob Burnett said he hopes his future children will learn about hard work on the farm.
"With society the way it is and the constant instant gratification, I want my future kids to know delayed gratification and hard work," Burnett said. "I want them to have something tangible that they can see and connect with."
Burnett said he has always liked animals and also owns a horse.
"One of my goals is to work my cattle from horseback," Burnett said. "I want to start a small local farm. I'm looking for 50 to 100 acres, preferably in Carroll County. I have to consider my commute. I hope to start working on my farm full-time in 10 years."
Burnett said that once he's got land, he hopes to pay forward the mentoring he's received.
"I want to help out beginning farmers after I get started," Burnett said. "I want to give veterans the opportunity to come out and learn a trade."
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