Military Service to Farmer: Four Skills US Veterans Bring to the Field


Dickinson Farm in San Diego

At first glance, a military career and farming livelihood may not seem to cross-pollinate. But dig a little deeper and hear the inspiring story of veteran Stepheni Norton, owner of Dickinson Farm in San Diego, and the opportunities for former military to both heal and thrive in the field quickly grow. 

Norton’s inspiring story celebrates two growing hot spots in agriculture:  the growth of urban farms and the number of women farmers, which has grown twenty percent in the last twenty years as I write about in my book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers.

“Veterans today launch start-ups at twice the average national rate,” shares Stepheni Norton, a retired Chief Petty Officer who successfully did just that when she transitioned to become a farmer entrepreneur in 2012 after a military career.  If given the right environment to thrive, military skills can indeed readily transfer to running one’s own business, as Norton feels her Coast Guard experience contributes to her success today.  “Being outside with my hands in the soil also made all the difference for me and other veterans working through PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.  Growing tomatoes can cure all things that ail you.”

In 2012, Norton launched Dickinson Farm, an urban farm in southern San Diego.  She operates a year-round urban vegetable and fruit farm with her husband, Michael Lesley, who is also a US veteran.  Together they raise a variety of organic heirloom vegetables on one quarter acre and sell to area chefs, including Chef Coral Strong at Garden Kitchen as well as hosting farm-to-table dinner events on site.

Norton quickly rose to be a leader in San Diego’s budding local food movement with her high energy blend of “get it done” spirit alongside collaboration, two areas her years in the military helped cultivate. 

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