Written by Natalie Monroe

For Anthony Barreras, it was the long childhood hours spent on his grandparents’ cattle ranch in northeastern Arizona that planted the first seed in his heart, and grew into a lifelong dream of becoming a farmer.  Just when he thought that school, ROTC, and the Army were starting to re-route the course of his dreams, fate intervened.

While stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Anthony met his wife, Mariel, who was attending college locally.  An adventuresome duo, their first dates were spent riding ATV’s, fishing, and bear hunting – the inspiration behind the bear their company logo boasts (as a tribute to their beginning).  These early outdoor escapades served as the platform on which they shared their dreams of having a big family and a place to leave a lasting legacy for their children, a place to share their joys and experiences with the community around them.  Fortuitously, meeting Mariel brought the unexpected final piece of the puzzle to Anthony’s dream of farming.

In March 2016, Barreras Family Farm was born.  Primarily a free-range, pasture raised poultry operation just outside of Omaha, Nebraska, they produce the only uniquely colored eggs in the area – dark brown, blue, green, brown, pink, and speckled.

Anthony is one of 110 veterans awarded a combined total of $276,000 so far this year through the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund.  The Barreras’ are using their $5,000 award to construct a poultry barn for raising laying hens on their new property.  Started by Farmer Veteran Coalition, the Fellowship Fund provides direct assistance to veterans in their beginning years of farming or ranching, with funds going toward items identified by the veteran as making a crucial difference in the launch of their farm business.  Now in its ninth year, the Fund has awarded more than $2.3 million to date.

Currently an Active Duty Army Communications Officer, Anthony has served for nearly 19 years including two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of a communication unit to an Infantry Brigade.  With a Masters of Science in Information Technology Management, he established the largest digital communications network in Iraq.  “The military provides its members a sense of independence, drive, willingness to sacrifice time, and dedication to task, which lends itself to farming as a perfect career for a veteran.  Each task, whether big or small, requires military ingenuity,” shares Anthony.  “And at the end of the day, you have something tangible.”

The timeliness of this funding for the Barreras family is particularly impactful, with both military retirement on the horizon and the recent devastating farm loss they have suffered from the dual impact of this winter’s Polar Vortex and the historic flooding across Nebraska.  “This will be a lasting impact on the health of the flock and relieve some of our personal financial investment as I look to retire from the Army in the next year.”

Now up to 750 free range chickens from their initial 200, and with the anticipation of expanding to 2,500 over the next few years, the barn and its square footage are key to limiting parasites and maintaining high egg production.  Yet receiving this grant, thanks to generous support by Newman’s Own Foundation, means more to the Barreras’ than just increased production.  As Anthony reflects, “We want to build a facility to allow people to tour and assess what we’re doing, to be an educational tool.  When I think about our greatest pride in the farm, it’s more about the education than the production – allowing people to experience the farm, see where food comes from and how it’s raised, and to be a part of something.”  He is hopeful this barn will do just that.

It’s not only their high quality product that has customers coming back; the eye-catching teal color of the egg cartons themselves, adorned with the Homegrown By Heroes label, pop on store shelves.  With Mariel’s touch for marketing and an unwavering commitment to caring for each and every customer, success has come quickly.  Sales demand through local grocers, food co-ops, farmers markets, and farm-direct has exceeded supply, prompting the Barreras’ to sell the original 10 acres and purchase a new 69 acre property in late 2018.

With her husband still actively serving, Mariel passionately heads up the daily business operations and customer relations. But she doesn’t go at it alone.  Having just welcomed their eighth child earlier this year, a second baby girl to complement six hardworking boys, it’s an all-hands-on-deck family operation.  “Our kids are a huge aspect of our farm, they all pitch in.  They are constantly at markets and educational events with us,” beams Anthony.

He and Mariel will tap into these extra sets of hands as they break ground on the new barn, while simultaneously enlisting the help of local farmer veteran friends.  “Military experience has taught me the importance of advocacy and collaboration – meeting others, learning from them, and supporting those who may not have a voice.  Service is at the heart of our farm mission,” relayed Anthony who shares trials and triumphs, and provides guidance and mentorship to beginning and veteran farmers.  A huge proponent of the Homegrown By Heroes label and designation, he firmly believes in its positive value on their marketing efforts: “The logo definitely attracts attention, and is an instrumental piece to our branding.  I try to encourage our veteran friends and farmers to also show their customers they are supporting a veteran.”

With open doors, Anthony and Mariel take pride in building a relationship with each customer and sharing with local agricultural organizations the seven Army values to which the Barreras Family Farm vision is dedicated – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage.  “My wife and I never hesitate to have families out to the farm, to share our experiences, and to listen as they share their dreams.”  One of their most popular educational programs, coined ‘Rent-a-Chick’, attracts smiling faces to their property every Easter season.  A clever approach to allowing students and schools the opportunity to raise a pair of chicks for two weeks, it teaches families about farm life.  In exchange, the baby chicks learn how to interact with humans before being returned to the safety of the Barreras Family Farm and grown into pastured egg layer hens.

During summer months, even the youngest Barreras children are leading the way.  Local kids strap on boots and enthusiastically stomp out to the farm to engage in weeklong camps.  Designed to educate on animal care, each session highlights a distinct themed focus ranging from feeding/milking cows and goats to farm predators and farm protection.  “Our kids are now teaching the younger kids.  We had a group of high school juniors out for a class on goats; our eleven year old taught the class.  They love the interaction,” exclaimed Anthony, marveling at the different perspective – the youthful perspective – the kids offer when the Barreras family is brainstorming future business plans.

Still in its early stages, Barreras Family Farm continues to diversify their product offerings and community reach. Their growing grass-fed, grass-finished beef herd of 11 cows frequently sells out due to high demand.  Raw goats milk, pasture raised pork, broiler poultry, local Nebraska honey, and paw paw fruit round out their bounty.  “We made it a point to visit farmers markets, u-pick orchards, and family farms to get ideas of what animals, activities, and food were most profitable. We were able to bring all these experiences and knowledge to Nebraska,” explains Anthony, looking back on their time stationed in Tennessee, California, and Kansas.

Regardless of position as staff officer or commander, Anthony’s leadership approach has always included three aspects: take care of each other, always do the hard right instead of the easy wrong, and lead by example.  “We are working to instill these in our children and into the daily operations of our farm.” he conveyed.  “Our end goal is to provide a successful business legacy for our children.”  As Anthony turns his sights toward retiring from the Army in the next year, he finally will be able to move into full time farming and live out his childhood dream that, together, he and Mariel have turned into a reality.