Empty Pockets Ranch LLC – A Veteran Owned Family Farm

After 10 years in the Army, three tours in Iraq, and the responsibility of leading Soldiers, veteran Josh David, realized an office job was not for him, and through his wife, Lori, he found his path into agriculture. 

Laying down the leadership mantle is never easy, but what can be even harder is allowing your spouse, or any family member for that matter, to take a lead role in your life while you try to figure out what to do as you transition out of the military. Army veteran, Josh Davis, did not want to sit behind a desk the rest of his life, and he struggled to find an alternative that suited him and his family. Agriculture seemed foreign to him, but by allowing his wife, Lori, to lead him down a path to farming, he soon realized that a fulfilling lifestyle surrounded by nature and centered on family was not far out of reach and was just what he needed. 


Josh and operate the 73-acre farm in Cobleskill, NY, along with their four children Madison (19), Joe (16) Anthony (15) and Colton (2). Courtesy of Empty Pockets Ranch

“Empty Pockets Ranch started in 2016 with a handful of dairy sheep and 24 chickens. What began as a dream of family homesteading and becoming self-sufficient quickly morphed into a full-time business and lifestyle.” These words are taken directly from the website introduction for Josh and Lori’s farm, Empty Pockets Ranch, LLC. Along with their four children Madison (19), Joe (16) Anthony (15) and Colton (2), they operate their 73-acre farm in Cobleskill, NY. Josh admits he knew nothing about farming or agriculture until he met Lori though a fellow veteran and now brother-in-law. 

“She had horses, so I started spending a lot of time around them and that was really my first experience with large animals,” he shared. “With her encouragement I went to SUNY Cobleskill and obtained a degree in Agricultural Engineering and that allowed me to take other classes in various areas of agriculture so that I could learn a little bit about each industry.”

If you were to meet Lori outside of the farm and hear her New York City accent, you may assume that she was only visiting northern NY. “As long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a farm” Lori reminisced. “When I was about 8 years old, I started horseback riding lessons on Long Island and that is when things really came into perspective for me that I wanted animals in my life in some capacity.” 

When Lori’s parents could no longer afford the riding lessons, Lori began working at the farm where she rode horses, assisting with children’s birthday parties and with various livestock in exchange for lessons. As an adult, she worked as a veterinary assistant on Long Island, but realized that if she was ever going to fulfill her dream of having a farm and farm animals, then she would have to move north. 

After moving north, Lori continued to work as a veterinary assistant but also took a job milking sheep at Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in Chatham, NY. 

“I wasn’t even aware that people milked sheep until then” Lori said with a laugh. “It was during this time, I decided to go back to school. I wanted a degree in equine studies, but on my first day the advisor pulled me aside and recommended a degree in Agricultural Business. I had no idea what that even was, but figured I’d see what it was all about, and I changed my major.”

That Agricultural Business degree in conjunction with Lori’s creativity, endless energy, and willingness to jump in with both feet on any project she decides to take on has resulted in a multi-faceted farm operation. 

“We have a U- Pick flower operation and a flower CSA. We milk sheep, and I make soap and bath products from the milk. We grow vegetables and pumpkins. We breed Livestock Guardian dogs, and I hold Livestock Guardian dog trainings. We are known for our sunflower field, which we lease to photographers, host picnics and host ‘paint and sip’ events among the sunflowers,” Lori explained. 


They have both a U- Pick flower operation and a flower CSA on the farm.


She constantly puts her degree to use, building new and inventive ways to bring people to the farm so they can enjoy an “authentic farm family experience.” Community members are welcome to hold birthday parties, weddings, and other social events on the farm. 

The farm hosts a summer camp for kids, which includes a petting zoo, honeybee demonstration, nature walks, and so much more. The farm also hosts three annual events: a Sunflower Festival, the Sunflower U-Pick during the month of August, and a Fall Festival, all filled with fun farm activities and opportunities to learn about life on the farm. The farm recently became a Harvest Host site, providing tent and RV camping spring through fall.

Josh struggled with the thought of having to show up and work in an office every day, so Lori encouraged and fostered his interest in agriculture. 

“I realized that Josh was never going to find a job that was so exciting, adrenaline filled, with a level of commitment and dedication and teamwork that he had in the military, until I introduced him to farming. While farming is exciting with non- stop action in its own way, it is also full of routines, rewards, and gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Lori said. 

Josh said that he finds satisfaction in working from home: “I can literally walk out my door and there it all is. I don’t have to look for mundane tasks to keep my mind busy because farm work is constant, its outdoors, it’s always changing, and no day is boring.” 

Beginning every April, they open the Empty Pockets Ranch Farm Shoppe, where you can find their handmade soap and bath products, candles, baked goods, to include chicken pot pies, and eggs, meat and dairy items from local Schoharie County producers. 

“I find it really rewarding to see other people enjoying our farm, and it’s rewarding for me to be able to see lambs being born on the farm or products that we have made or grown from scratch ourselves,” Josh said as he looked out over the farm. 

Josh and Lori have made sure that farming is a family endeavor. 

“My kids have learned responsibility, how to give birth to animals, how to grow their own food, customer service, retail, and event organization skills, the list goes on and on,” Lori said with pride. “They know how to be creative and help make products and market them. We home school as well, and what they learn on the farm are things that just are not taught in conventional school systems.” 

Madison, the eldest and currently in college, finds farming exciting: “Whether it was taking care of the horses or helping to get the gardens started, there was always something to do. I intend to incorporate the farm and the business that has been created by our family in my future. It has always been something I’ve been interested in and have had a passion for. I am hoping to take over one day and keep it going for families to come visit and enjoy the beauty.” 

Madison has been inspired by her family’s farming dreams, to see all her mom has accomplished “has been such a gift.”

For other military veterans considering getting into farming, Lori warns: “It’s hard. There are days that I have to do the work of ten people. Things always break, weather doesn’t cooperate, you wonder if you will get enough customers who want your product to make it all worth it. The life of a small business owner is no easy task and many of us think about quitting at least 50 times a day. It’s not all peaches and cream and red barns, but it can be so rewarding, and when I watch my youngest, Colten, frolicking amongst the flowers I am reminded that it is all worth it.” 

Aerial ranch view

Empty Pockets Ranch started in 2016 as a homestead with a handful of dairy sheep and 24 chickens, and is now a thriving farm business.

“You will never find a more frustrating yet rewarding career,” Josh said. “It’s great to be your own boss, but farming doesn’t allow you the freedom that one may think. Farming is a risky business, and you have so little control over so many aspects of it, and I think that’s why it feels that much better when you are successful.”


Nina Saeli

Nina retired from active duty in 2009. She and her husband, Jeffrey, own and operate Centurion Farm in Locke, NY. Nina also now works with the Cornell Small Farms Program as coordinator of our Farm Ops project supporting veterans in agriculture.