28 Jun Featured Farmer: Damon Helton
When asked why he raises his animals on pasture, Damon Helton of The Farm at Barefoot Bend said, “I worry about what my children eat. And I know other folks do, too.” Helton, formerly an Army Ranger, came to farming by an unconventional path. When his military service was up, he and his wife Jana—neither of whom had any experience farming—decided to buy land.
“I had an empty spot in my life that I realized only farming could fill. I can’t really explain it, but I always knew wanted to be outside and work with my hands.”
When they began investigating agricultural methods, the Heltons were immediately attracted to pasture-based systems. In 2012 they purchased a piece of land along the Saline River and named it “The Farm at Barefoot Bend.”
“When we started talking about farming, we knew that sustainable agriculture was absolutely the way to go.”
The Heltons spent the first couple of years in Lonsdale tending to the land and doing their research. While staying in hotel in Louisiana on business, Damon was channel surfing and landed on a documentary about Joel Salatin, a farmer famous for being a vocal advocate for rotational grazing and pasture-based livestock systems. “I called Jana and said, ‘Turn on your television. This guy is talking about exactly what we want to do.'”
In 2014, Damon and Jana applied to be apprentice farmers for Grass Roots. And in March of 2015, the Heltons got their first chicks. Just a few months later, they introduced cattle into their pasture rotation.
Now a full member of the co-op, The Farm at Barefoot Bend has added hogs to the wooded parts of their land. And this year Jana was voted onto the Grass Roots board.
In addition to all their animals, Damon and Jana also care for four children and run The Olde Crow General Store—which provides local, all-natural foods and goods to an area that might not otherwise have access to them, including Grass Roots meats. Damon is also an active member and advocate for Homegrown by Heroes, a project of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
“Feeding your family feels good. Feeding your community feels good. So, I feel great at the end of every day.”