The Schaars, first-generation farmers in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, never expected a global pandemic to be their farm’s “big break.” Matt, a retired Green Beret, and Charlotte, a corporate wellness executive and major in the Army Reserve, had just started their Ohio farm in earnest a couple of years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Along with their farming partners, Joey and Amy Ellwood, the couple purchased a piece of farmland in the village of Gnadenhutten and set up a homestead called EDS Ranch. When the opportunity came to buy the land from Joey and Amy, Matt and Charlotte jumped, but traditional lenders didn’t want to finance the property’s outbuildings. That’s when Matt stumbled upon Farm Credit Mid-America’s booth at a Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) convention and learned about Rural 1st.
“Rural 1st was the only lender that would help us out when we wanted to get this land,” Charlotte said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done without them, and we’re really appreciative of that.”
In March 2020, while EDS Ranch was still developing its business, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rendering national protein stocks scarce. Customers started calling Matt and Joey, hoping to purchase protein directly from EDS Ranch. Matt, Joey and Amy took orders, packed the truck and delivered nourishment to people in their community.
“It really gave us a lot of pride,” said Matt. “I felt like I was back in the military, deployed on operations. It was that important. Our customers felt that way, too.”
Today, Matt and Charlotte work full time at EDS Ranch and have been able to retain the new customers they gained at the height of the pandemic. This has enabled them to switch from selling mostly to commercial and high-end restaurants to selling primarily direct-to-consumers.
With partners like Farm Credit Mid-America, Rural 1st and the FVC on their side, along with family, friends and the community of veteran-owned businesses, the team looks forward to expanding their business. When they think towards the future, the Schaars and Ellwoods hope to add contract farmers, sell at local markets and step up Charlotte’s new houseplant business, all while continuing to serve their community.