Taking an Opportunity
Sortomme Family Farms began after Levi Sortomme spent 15 years in the military
Levi Sortomme of Ward, Ark., grew up in a family of veterans. His father James served in the Arizona Air National Guard, with his grandfather James having served in the Navy and his step-grandfather Lyndon “Dutch” Vrooman in the Marines.
Although Levi’s father never attempted to persuade him into a military career, he often spoke passionately of his own military experience and upbringing.
As a child, Levi never thought he would join the military but rather pursue a career in information technology and programming. Then as his adult life took an unexpected twist, he followed the desire for a change to be proud of, and joined the Air Force remaining on active duty for 15 years and took advantage of the opportunity to explore more than 50 countries. The time away from agriculture and his family’s substantial Arizona cattle ranch and additional dairy goat farm made him realize how suited he was for agriculture. He switched gears once again and joined the Arkansas Air National Guard with the 154th Training Squadron where he works as a C-130 H loadmaster flight instructor in addition to building his and Brianna’s full-time farming operation in preparation for his military retirement in the next five years.
“Veterans have enormous agricultural potential which is largely a result of the pride they take in excellence in all they do,” Levi explained. “While in the military, failure drives us but success from hard work and planning empowers us. Agriculture is so very similar to military service in that failures breed ingenuity and successes breed pride. As an agriculturalist the tangible success of any operation is paid in multitudes when one observes the acres of baled harvest at the end of the day or the survival of a struggling calf after an enduring sleepless night. Building and operating our farm with my wife and children is a joy and tradition I expect to continue to build upon long after retirement.”
Levi and Brianna have known each other for nearly 20 years with both having been raised in production agriculture. Then another one of those twists of life brought them back together as she helped care for three of Levi’s children and her own daughter. The couple recently celebrated their first anniversary. They own 40 acres and lease another 360 as hay ground. Sortomme Family Farms began as a forage farm, with Levi and Brianna taking a chance and appropriating retirement funds to purchase farmland and equipment outright to forego the typical agriculturist’s banker burden. Now, after even just two years in operation much of the hay is sold before it hits the ground. Additionally, resourceful farm management stores enough forage for their own cattle and goat operation.
Levi maintains that the secret to success in agriculture is to start small and let the small mistakes and successes allow for learning and growth. He says those entering the industry often have had experience as a youngster or knowledge from books. However, real life always brings about unexpected changes and challenges that force practical growth; and if new farmers start small, they grow without a devastating cost. An example is the Nigerian Dwarf goat herd which started out with eight does and two bucks. Last year seven of the does died from unknown causes. Driven to succeed, Levi and Brianna plan to rebuild the herd again with the intention of selling meat, as well as cheese, with dairy and cheese-making familiar to Levi from his parents’ goat operation.
The Sortomme Family operation is in its infancy. Last year Levi bought two heifers from the St. Joseph Center in Little Rock and another two from veteran Nathan Whatley at WW Farm and Cattle Company in the Mullberry area.
“Knowing who you buy from is very important and makes visual selection more a matter of making sure the animals have a healthy appearance with no visual genetic defect. The goats we purchased came from someone I didn’t know well who was downsizing, which may partially explain their unexpected deaths,” Levi surmised.
The pureblood Angus heifers will not be bred until they are 24 months old to minimize birthing issues, which means they have another year to go before breeding. Then Lady Luck smiled. Nathan was looking for a temporary location for a breeding bull to allow recovery to breeding weight and agreed to loan the bull to Sortomme Family Farms. The heifers will be ready to breed about the time the bull should be back to breeding weight. Levi and Brianna’s goal is to build a herd of 40 cows and to sell high quality, grain and grass-fed, fresh beef on the hoof.
“My wife brings a lot to the table,” Levi said. “She worked full time as a vet tech many years before coming to Arkansas where her veterinary expertise is valuable. She is a military spouse and full-time farmer as well as bookkeeper, sales manager social media coordinator.”
Because of Levi’s strong belief that the military and agriculture are a natural pairing, he joined the Farmer Veteran Coalition, founded by Michael O’Gorman in 2007. Levi and Brianna were part of the driving forces behind the founding of Arkansas’ chapter, Arkansas Farmer Veteran Coalition which is the most recent addition to the coalition. The organization also operates under the label Arkansas Homegrown by Heroes in the media. Regardless of how natural the pairing of military and agriculture is, entering the industry has numerous challenges, often compounded by personal challenges especially transitional difficulties including PTSD.
The chapter took over a year to organize and is composed of a board with both Levi and Brianna being board members, as well as a diverse group of advisors with direct access to legislators and a wide range of assistance. Easy access to people knowledgeable about information sources including grants and programming is through a website or Facebook using “Arkansas Farmer Veteran Coalition” as a search term.
“Valuable help is here,” Levi said. “All you have to do to get started is reach out because all of us are waiting for you.”http://www.ozarksfn.com/2020/11/24/taking-an-opportunity/http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/SortommeBack-1024x770.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/SortommeBack-150x150.jpgArkansas NeighborsNeighborsAir Force,Arkansas,Arkansas Air National Guard,farmer,Levi Sortomme,veteran,WardSortomme Family Farms began after Levi Sortomme spent 15 years in the military Levi Sortomme of Ward, Ark., grew up in a family of veterans. His father James served in the Arizona Air National Guard, with his grandfather James having served in the Navy and his step-grandfather Lyndon “Dutch” Vrooman in...Larry BurchfieldLarry Burchfieldlburchfield57@gmail.comAuthorOzarks Farm & Neighbor Newspaper