Forging a New Path with Farming

hbh courtney ellington grouping

Courtney Ellington describes her journey into farming as “a path less traveled.”

“While my family had no background in agriculture, my fascination with the land and its potential for growth and sustenance was undeniable,” the Memphis, Tennessee native said. “From a young age, I found myself captivated by the beauty of nature and the bountiful harvests it could yield. I marveled at the way crops sprouted from the earth, nurtured by the sun and rain, and ultimately nourishing communities.”

Courtney today lives in Oroville, California, and runs El&10 Farms with her children and Veteran friend Alex Secord, a Purple Heart recipient.

The farm produces beets, carrots, kale, beans, okra, zucchini, squash and eggs, and benefits from FVC’s Homegrown By Heroes label.

“Being a part of Homegrown By Heroes means a lot to me,” she said. “It has helped me tremendously in my farming career. I have always been able to call and ask questions and get connected to people who can also help me. Most importantly, they paid for me to go to the California Farm Academy, which has helped me to be where I am today.”

Her early dreams of becoming a farmer at one point seemed unattainable. She had no guidance from family or any expertise in the field. At age 19, she joined the U.S. Army.

“Although enlisting in the military may have seemed like a departure from my agricultural aspirations, it provided me with invaluable life experiences, discipline and newfound skills,” she said.

“My initial role as a 92G, a cook, allowed me to provide sustenance and nourishment to my fellow soldiers,” Courtney said. “It was during this time that I developed a deep appreciation for the importance of food and how it connects people on a fundamental level.

“Little did I know, this experience would serve as a foundation for my future endeavors in agriculture.”

New Experiences

During her military career, she transitioned to become a 35E, an electronic maintenance technician. That role exposed her to the world of technology and problem-solving, giving her insight into the importance of adaptability and resourcefulness.

“I used these skills to troubleshoot complex systems and ensure the smooth functioning of critical equipment,” Courtney said. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my military service was the opportunity to train newly enlisted soldiers. As an instructor, I witnessed the transformative power of education and mentorship, and it further solidified my desire to make a positive impact on others’ lives.”

After leaving the military, however, she found herself at a crossroads.

“It was during this time that a friend, who happened to be a farmer, introduced me to the world of agriculture,” she said. “I immersed myself in the study of sustainable farming practices, attending workshops, and seeking guidance from experienced farmers.

“I discovered that my military background had instilled in me the discipline, work ethic, and resilience necessary to thrive in the agricultural industry. With each passing day, I became more enamored with the rhythms of nature, the cycles of planting and harvesting, and the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of my labor.”

Farming as Way of Life

Courtney, who has struggled with PTSD, said she realized that farming would be not just a career but a way of life. “A calling that allowed me to connect with the land, honor my roots, and contribute to the well-being of my community,” she said.

She joined Farmer Veteran Coalition in 2015. A year later, she moved to California. In 2020 FVC paid for her to attend the California Farm Academy and its Center for Land-Based Learning, which greatly benefited her, she said.

“As an aspiring farmer with a unique blend of military experience and agricultural knowledge, I strive to create sustainable farming systems that nourish both people and the environment,” Courtney said. “I am proud to carry on the legacy of those who came before me, breaking barriers and reshaping societal expectations.

“I have learned that passion knows no boundaries. It is through determination, resilience, and a willingness to embrace new opportunities that we can forge our own paths and transform our dreams into reality.”

What she enjoys about farming is connecting to nature and watching the process from beginning to end. More importantly, it enables her to give back to the community and to educate others.
Like many farmers, her biggest challenge is having the finances and access to capital so she can grow her farm.

“I am currently producing fresh juices and I am in conversations with hospitals in the Bay Area to provide fresh juices to customers and clients,” she said. “I am in the beginning stage, but things are moving fast. I am still learning and would love to connect with more farmers to learn more and grow my network.”