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Farming provides veteran with roots, sanctuary

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Retired Army Reserve Major Amy Hess took a giant leap and bought a new tractor for her diversified Mercer County farm. To Hess, the equipment means she will be more self-sufficient. 

For two decades, Amy Hess always had an evacuation bag packed with essentials.

“I was always ready to leave,” the former Army Reserve major told FarmWeek.

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It wasn’t until she was standing in the middle of her Mercer County pasture – seven years post-retirement – that she realized she no longer had to go anywhere.

“I retired at 40 after 22.5 years of service. I had no idea how tired I was until I left the service. This gives me rest and also a purpose,” Hess said, looking over the rolling fields. “If you had told me in 2012 where I was going to be, I wouldn’t have dreamed it. I needed time to find what gives me joy.”

Today, Hess finds joy in a small, diversified farm with heirloom breeds of pigs, chickens, ducks and turkeys; a few acres of hay and pasture; large garden; and big future plans. “I’m working toward self-sufficiency. It’s a lifestyle for myself and my family,” she said.

With a grant from the Farmer Veteran Coalition, Hess bought a cabinet incubator and started incubating 200 eggs on Nov. 1. “Now I won’t have to rely on a hatchery anymore,” she added.

Her “giant leap,” a New Holland tractor with blade and mower, was delivered a couple of weeks ago. Now Hess won’t have to miss a third cutting of hay again because she had to rely on others. “That (missed cutting) was the catalyst to buy,” she said, noting the equipment also brings opportunities for custom mowing and snow removal.

With a commercial license, Hess delivers an “eggscape” that ranges from rusty red to soft greens and blues to customers across Mercer County. By next fall, she hopes to have spring turkey eggs and birds weighing in the 20-pound range available for Thanksgiving meals. In the near future, she plans to offer customers starter eggs or poults to raise. When their birds mature, those customers may return to Hess for help processing the mature birds.

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Next year’s plans include completion of a small on-farm stand with a small grain bin roof. The “farmers market of one” will offer a variety of vegetables from her two gardens, cut flowers, eggs and meat birds.

“It’s a lot of work, but if you love what you do,” she said with her voice trailing off.

“I credit the Farmer Veteran Coalition for helping to fund my dreams, for understanding what it takes, giving me opportunities to pursue my dreams and for giving veterans a mission to serve a purpose,” Hess said. “It’s very important to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Farmers seeking hard working employees should consider hiring veterans, Hess said. Veterans are “equipped to handle and manage stress and remain calm. Until the job is done, our (veterans’) workday is not over. That’s the parallel to serving in uniform and farming,” she explained.

While Americans owe much to veterans, they also owe those serving today. “We can never lose our awareness and appreciation for a volunteer force,” she said. That awareness applies to Hess’ twins. Her son, Ben, serves in the Marines and his twin, Rebecca, is in the Air National Guard. Their younger sister, Sarah, is a freshman at Mercer County High School.

On Nov. 11, the nation’s thoughts turned to those who serve and sacrifice. While thanking a veteran on Veterans Day is a kind gesture, it’s also important throughout the year. Hess recommends acknowledging them and asking basic questions that demonstrate a level of care.

“If you really want to thank a veteran, appreciate the freedoms you have,” she said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker joins Brig. Gen. Patricia Wallace, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and community leaders for a Veterans Day commemoration ceremony.


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