As a city boy, a career in ag was never in the plan for Damon Helton. It took some “soul searching” before he got to where he is now.
“The extent of my knowledge in agriculture was shelling purple-hull peas in my grandparents’ small garden and my grandfather always carrying a salt shaker in his back pocket when we went to pick tomatoes,” he said.
Helton was a member of the 2nd Ranger Batallion in the US Army, and served six deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. When he got out, he took a job in sales, but wanted something more. One Sunday after church, he and his family took a drive, where they came across some land near Lonsdale, Ark.
“I took my wife’s hand and said, you better get me out of here before I buy this place,” Helton recalled. “I fell in love. I don’t know what it was, but something was calling me there.”
Helton and his wife purchased the land, and now, it’s not only his home, but it’s his way of life. Helton considered planting cotton, tobacco, soybeans and others, before deciding to pursue sustainable farming. After raising 2,500 chickens in his first year, he grew the farm by adding cattle, hogs, goats and more.
Helton had great success at local farmers’ markets, but they’re seasonal.
“How am I going to utilize what I’m producing year-round,” he thought. “Where am I going to go with it?”
That’s when he noticed an old grocery store for sale, which is now Olde Crow General Store. He remembers a time when the store only had three freezers, one each for chicken, pork and beef. As people visited the store, he explained that his products were grown and raised locally, at his farm down the road. Word spread quickly, and now the store carries products from many producers around the state.
“A lady down the road makes jams and jellies, and a guy grows awesome tomatoes,” he said. “People just started coming out of the woodwork.”
Helton wants students to consider a career in agriculture. You don’t have to own a farm to play an important role in the industry. Helton has watched many different ag professionals come together, like chefs, butchers and local producers, creating many different opportunities.
“I didn’t know the first thing about planting, or a cow a pig or a chicken. But I felt a purpose, and I was driven,” he said. “I was searching for a way to serve, and agriculture gave me that.”
To learn more about career opportunities in agriculture, click here.
To find college majors in agriculture and salary information, visit MyMajors.com.