Ryan Stevens’ roots run deep.
“I grew up tapping, collecting, and boiling syrup with my grandfather, father, and brother. In those days we collected each bucket hanging from a tree walking down a hill trying to keep from sloshing the sap on our legs.”The visual is easy to imagine. The family boiled their liquid gold on a homemade 50 gallon barrel stove built with a homemade pan welded by Ryan’s cousin. Those memories are still sweet to this day. “Sitting in the warm sap house, with steam boiling out of the pan, listening to my grandfather and father talk about the good old days when they worked on the Cook Farm – I tried to picture my grandfather as a young man throwing hay bales and my father running around the yard looking for mischief,” reminisces the FVC farmer veteran, who has now endeavored into a farming operation of his own. “Those stories interrupted the frequent taste testing to see how close the batch was to being finished.” Ryan Stevens retired from the United States Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant in August 2018. He served at 2D ANGLICO, MARSOC and NSW DEVGRU, conducting ten combat deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC). The recipient of two Purple Hearts and multiple valor awards including the Bronze Star Medal, Ryan is a graduate of the American Military University. He sits as a board member for Operation Hat Trick, a veteran non-profit. His devoted wife Stephanie – also a Marine veteran herself – and he own and operate Full Armor Farm in New Vineyard, Maine where they are blessed to be raising three beautiful children (RJ, Ester and Gideon) and Ryan’s service dog, Moose. They also raise Scottish Highland beef cattle. “Full Armor Farm was purchased in 2016 while we were both still active duty Marines. We looked forward to the property as our eventual retirement home.” But the reality as Ryan shares it is “that situation changed after my tenth combat deployment, and God had a different plan for us.” Fortunate to be sent to a wounded warrior unit to work through medical issues and medically retire, Ryan explains that he and Stephanie had a year to decide what their new mission in life would be. “Steph suggested farming.” Ryan, thinking he would stay in special operations for the rest of his career, had never considered it. But the arrival of their first child just 20 days prior to Ryan’s tenth deployment changed his perspective – and his priorities. In February 2018, Ryan and Stephanie moved to Maine with the new mission of following their faith, family and farming. They worked at another thriving farm in the community to gain experience and ideas. Now in their third year, they have established a solid foundation. Apple cider, chicken eggs, and seasonal produce accompany their maple and birch syrup production. A Fellowship Fund recipient in 2020, Ryan’s grant will allow the couple to triple their production capability from 200 to 600 taps. “When I left the maple syrup game it was buckets, metal spiles and the farmers sap carry,” shares Ryan. “Full Armor Farm has been able to catch up with technology utilizing the FVC grant to help purchase all the line infrastructure and modern tools to perform installations.” They have already exceeded their estimated goal of 500 taps on 4 acres. Now they project to be around 2,000 taps by 2025 and hope to add a reverse osmosis system soon. “Every day is an adventure, farming is a lifestyle that we have embraced with open arms like our father above,” reflects the decorated Marine. “We are praying that in the future Full Armor Farm will help provide veteran internship opportunities for warriors interested in farming. We would like to build a small cabin on the farm to help showcase farming as a lifestyle, career or homesteading option for warriors looking for a new mission.”