Centurion Farm Farmer Veteran Tour

Centurion Farm is owned and operated by Nina and Jeffrey Saeli, veterans of the United States Military. After retiring from many years of service, they moved to New York and decided to start farming. Although farming had been a passion of Jeffrey’s, the push to start farming came after two spinal surgeries for Nina. It was in her best interest to find a hobby that was more mentally challenging than physically in order for her to best recover. Farming became that hobby. Today, Nina works with the Cornell Small Farms Program as our Farm Ops project associate. 

In our video tour of their farm, Nina shares that her biggest struggle in transitioning out of the military was feeling like she had lost her sense of purpose. Making the decision with her husband to start farming helped her to regain her sense of purpose. “I became a soldier to serve my country, and now I’ve become a farmer to serve my community,” she says. In the early months of recovery, she spent much of her time researching farming methods and practices as well as plant growth. It was through this research that the Saelis came across the term permaculture. Permaculture is known as a holistic approach to sustainable farming, which includes fostering natural ecosystems and land management. At Centurion Farm they strive to build a self-sustaining agricultural system full of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and one day orchard trees. 

The Saelis highlight that their success stems from their business plan, which involves both short and long-term goals for a five-year outlook. For them, having a structured business plan helps to mimic the intensive planning they were used to in the military. A long-term plan allows them to remain focused and guide their activities. Jeffrey also mentions that their plan helps them to collaborate with other farmers and pinpoint areas for improvement. Nina highlights that meeting with other farmers has been one of the most valuable resources to them. They have been able to meet with other farmers at workshops and gatherings put together by local Cornell Cooperative Extension offices. Their farming network has provided many helpful tools and information.

Claire Norman

Claire is a Senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She chose an interdisciplinary major where she could blend her passions for small-scale agriculture and education. Claire comes from a small dairy farm in Pine Plains, NY, where she grew an appreciation for the natural environment, but it was through FFA that she developed a passion for education. She hopes to one day bring agriculture to her classroom and to support community agriculture.
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