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Network Board & Staff

The PA Veteran Farming Network was formed in 2013 with the launch of theTroops to Tractors program to facilitate on-the-job apprenticeships for veterans. Since then, we've grown to be the state's non-profit organization supporting military, veterans, and their spouses in building strong and healthy farms and agribusinesses. Our mission is to connect veterans with each other and vetted service providers, convene educational and networking events, and promote veteran ag to help consumers buy veterans grown, raised, and made in PA. We also educate decision-makers and advocate for issues of interest to our Network. Led by a volunteer Board and one staff member, we welcome honorably discharged veterans and those currently serving to our ranks.

 

"They fought; now they farm."

 

Board of Directors: 

Board Chair Robert Mowery is a US Navy/Navy Reserves Veteran and Founder of Forever Heart Farm, LLC. & Forever Heart Apiary, LLC.  in Moon Township, PA.  Robert served in the Intelligence Community and as part of the initial cyber unit in NCIS 0166.  Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Robert worked on several surrounding farms and a small family homestead.  Robert attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where he majored in Computer Science and later launching a software technology and consulting company.  The combination of skills in technology and along with the desire to farm again has led to Forever Heart Farm adopting automation, technology, and modern agricultural practices to develop a sustainable operation on 25+ acres.   Robert has served on the board of the PA Veteran Farming Project from 2019-present.  Forever Heart Apiary was the site of our inaugural Bee Bootcamp course.\

 

Past Chair Rhonda Smith is an Air Force Veteran, former human services professional serving children and families, and the passionate force behind The Skirted Soldier, and Blue Knob Farms, based near Altoona, PA. Following 10 years as an Air Force surgery tech and in nursing billets at Landstuhl, Rhonda and her husband Dan Kennedy, also an Air Force Veteran, returned to the States and makes her home on a 3-acre farmette in Blue Knob, PA with her husband Dan, a fellow Air Force veteran, and their daughter.  Under Rhonda’s leadership, The Skirted Soldier tea is now sold in in 30 states. 10% of the company’s profit is donated to charities serving female veterans. In 2019 and 2020, the PA Veteran Farming Project administered grants with donations from The Skirted Soldier.

Board Vice-Chair Michael Reifsnyder was born and raised in Lancaster Pa. He attended Garden Spot High

School and graduated in 1989. August 1989 he enlisted into the US Navy and attended

Boot Camp in NTC Great Lakes. Michael served for 22 years and retired in 2011 as a Chief

Petty Officer. During his 22 years he was assigned numerous positions within the Aviation

Ordnance rating. Some of his assignments included VA-36 as his first assignment in the

Navy and as a Rating assignment detailer and his final assignment as a USN explosive

safety inspector.

Currently he resides in Carlisle Pa with his wife Sharon and 2 daughters Emily and Gabi.

Michael currently operates a mechanical contracting company and a mobile food facility, but

his main focus and passion is for the family farm growing hops. Their farm is called GEMS Farm.

 

Michael Brooker is a 27 year Marine, having served as a rotary wing pilot, and former National Service Officer with Disabled American Veterans. He is the volunteer Coordinator of Bee Bootcamp, a DAV Chapter Service Officer in Pittsburgh, and serves on the Pennsylvania Veterans Commission. Born at Plattsburgh AFB, Michael is the oldest of 5 sons of an Air Force family and holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Troy University.  A current resident of Greensburg, PA, he calls North Carolina "home". 

Dustin Butler served in the United States Army after obtaining his Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. In addition to working currently in the oil and gas profession, Dustin owns and operates Butler Hill Beef Farm in Knoxville, PA, with his wife Lindsey and children, where they raise grass-fed, grain-finished angus and limousin beef cattle, bees, and pigs. Dustin was a recipient of a PAVFN Force Multiplier Grant in 2022. He is a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, and speaks German.
 

Charles (CJ) Lafferty was born in Bucks County, PA in 1979 and attended Shippensburg University majoring in Chemistry prior to I enlisting in the U.S. Army and has deloyed to Kuwait and Bosnia.
After my initial 4-year enlistment he transitioned to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, with whom he deployed toIraq, and NATO missions in Latvia, Poland, and France. In 2019 my wife and I started our farm, Skyline Pastures with a few hundred broiler chickens, and have grown the farm to include beef, pork, and turkey in addition to chickens. CJ is the recipient of a NE SARE grant for a project to create an adaptable template for poultry on silvopasture.​

Kat Mirarchi ​retired from the Navy in 2016 after 22 years active duty service. She and her husband, a 20 year Navy veteran as well,  have built a small homestead that three years ago evolved to a farm with profit, Mirarchi Meadow LLC. They raise Katahadin sheep and honey bees on their 5 acres in Herndon, PA.

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Sharon Reifsnyder is a REALTOR® and the spouse of a 22 year Navy veteran. Natives of Lancaster, the Reifsnyders own and operate GEMS Farm, Carlisle, where their varied adventures in agriculture have evolved to focus on the 5 varieties of hops they grow in support of the ever growing craft beer industry.  Sharon's expertise in business and marketing will be of benefit to the veterans and military ag community the Project serves.

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Travis Shearer  is a life-long resident of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Wendy, also a Navy veteran, own and operate the 55 acre Jacobs’s Valley Farm in York County, PA, home to a rapidly expanding registered Katahdin Sheep operation.  Travis has worked 16 years in law enforcement and is also an Investment Advisor Representative with PFS Investments Inc. Travis used a VA Loan to purchase his farm and has benefited from both FSA loans and USDA grants. He also brings experience working with DEP and local building ordinances.  

Associate Directors: 

Larry Daugherty, US Army Veteran,Heritage Farms, McClellandtown PA

Chris Ishler, US Army Veteran, Sinking Creek Meats, Spring Mills, PA

Jason Puryear, US Army Veteran,  Executive Chef, Nova Destinations - Nova Cellars; Community Garden technical advisor

Giana VanNice, US Navy Veteran,  Blue Dog Farms in New Freedom, PA

 

​Staff: 

Mimi Thomas-Brooker, ME, MM, Executive Director, Marine Corps spouse and founder of the PA Veteran Farming Network. 

Rob Mowery
Rhonda (1).webp
Michael Brooker
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Charles Lafferty_Army_Skyline Pastures (2).JPG
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Michael Reifsnyder
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Travis Shearer on a red tractor
Logo with green and white farm field and barn labeled Pennsylvania Veteran Farms with a banner reading They Fought; Now they Farm
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