By Zirconia Alleyne
When Chief Warrant Officer 4 Charley Jordan began thinking about a career after the military, he knew two things: he didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and he wanted to continue using the skills he developed while serving his country.
Jordan, 45, grew interested in agriculture and began studying what it would take to start his own farm.
Since 2008, Jordan has been developing Circle J Ranch LLC in Woodlawn, Tennessee. He sells all-natural, grass-fed beef, a variety of vegetables, herbs, farm-fresh eggs and hay.
In July, Jordan was named the 2016 Tennessee Small Farmer of the Year. He was recognized as the most improved small farmer by the University of Tennessee/Tennessee State University Extension service.
The active-duty aviator pilot and battalion operations officer said he’s honored to have the title, but more excited about the possibilities of bringing his ideas to fruition.
Connecting the dots
Jordan’s passion is connecting veterans to agriculture as a post-military career.
In April, he organized and hosted a farmer-veteran workshop with the UT/TSU extension office to show other soldiers the blueprint for starting a farm.
“I knew I couldn’t be the only guy in the Army that wanted to be a farmer,” he said.
The idea developed after Jordan joined the Farmer Veteran Coalition in 2014, and attended a stakeholders conference in California last November. He was surrounded by hundreds of veterans who transitioned to farming and agriculture leaders who spoke about the
On the flight back home, Jordan was inspired to organize a similar event in Clarksville.
“My goal was just to have some people show up,” he said. “… We ended up having 95 participants, so it was a shock.”
Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett and Tennessee Rep. Jay Reedy also showed up, and employees from the United States Department of Agriculture gave presentations for free.
“There’s a need and a desire, and I think the ag community and the department are starting to notice this is a viable career,” he said.
Jordan plans to host the workshop again next year and has a goal to develop an agriculture career path in the soldier-for-life transition assistance program at Fort Campbell.
How he began
When Jordan started farming eight years ago, Google wasn’t as extensive as it is today and he didn’t have a farming mentor to show him exactly where to go and what to do.
“I didn’t grow up in an agriculture background — I grew up surfing, skateboarding and on the beach,” said the Florida native.
His only “taste for farming” was as a teenager when his grandfather moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1982.
In 1989, Jordan joined the Army and went on to live overseas in Germany and Korea, get married, have kids and deployed several times.
Jordan’s farming operation ironically started with his daughter’s involvement in high school rodeo. He bought a few horses and cows after returning to Fort Campbell in 2001, but as his daughter grew older, “she found other interests, such as boys and cars, so I got stuck with the horses and a few cows,” he chuckled. “I decided to have the cows processed and sold the meat.”
As business picked up steam, Jordan created a label and bought 25 acres of land, a herd of Texas Longhorn and some chickens.
Jordan eventually combined his herd with a Hereford breed to develop a hearty yet tender cut of meat. The beef is dry-aged and processed by Yoder Bros. Jordan sells it out of a freezer trailer.
In addition to beef, Jordan grows cherry tomatoes, five strands of gourmet lettuce, broccoli, mushrooms and fresh-cut flowers.
Homegrown by Heroes, a labeling program created by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, helped Jordan create a brand for Circle J Ranch and tell his story as a farmer-veteran.
From Army and ag
Jordan said there are similarities between the military and agriculture, such as discipline and initiative, time-management, respect for the land, loyalty and paying attention to detail.
The soon-to-retire soldier said he couldn’t imagine going into a career where he wouldn’t be able to get outside and work the land.
“As veterans we served the country, but we want to continue serving the country by feeding the nation and taking care of the land.”
His typical work day is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he finishes up on the farm around 9 p.m. As a 27-year veteran, Jordan said his installation has always been supportive of his farm, but the Army has been his priority most of his life. Jordan said he is looking forward to being on his farm full time when he retires.
“I’m either going to love it or hate it,” he laughed, but he doesn’t think that’s going to happen.