A farm dream delayed, now a reality

Photo: Courtesy, Learntofarm.org

The Farm School at The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food is in its second year and already proving that farming appeals to a broad diversity of people. The reasons they want to farm are equally unique. This year’s cohort includes a couple of older students who are excited to find the program later in life than expected. They prove that age is just a number while inspiring everyone around them.

One of these students is J.R., who boldly entered the adventures of The Farm School in his seventy-sixth year of life. He’s surprised everyone by physically matching his younger fellow students in physical farm work. After meeting J.R., this isn’t so surprising. He is full of life. When asked why he signed up for the CAFF program, he lists concise goals for his piece of Arkansas.

J.R. envisions it as a meditation center, a nature reserve, and a demonstration farm. He is excited to study sustainable farming methods, which are taught in the CAFF programs, and apply them. His farm, dubbed Skylight Ranch, is a place for learning, appreciation, and contemplation. He’s created a spiritual and natural retreat setting where he’ll teach others to grow healthy food.

This dream has been a long time coming. He drafted the original business plan twenty-five years before acquiring the land. At the time, J.R. lived in Los Angeles, California, and was still firmly in his career as a stockbroker and financial planner. He and his business partner ran a money management and retirement planning company. He didn’t particularly want to be a farmer then, but he longed for land and self-sustaining life. He wanted to live in a harmonious, peaceful environment and share any abundance with his local community.

Photo: Courtesy, Learntofarm.org

As we all know, sometimes dreams must be shelved due to timing and commitments. That was the case with his vision of taking off for the wilds. His wife would not enjoy that kind of life, and her happiness was more important to him. The farm dream was rediscovered and dusted off after the difficult loss of his wife. Sadly, a chapter had closed, but a new one was opened. Consolation for his grief was found in rekindling the old farm possibilities and searching for land.

A checklist was formulated with all the qualities J.R. needed for his farm. One primary concern was abundant water, which is scarce in California. Perusing satellite maps revealed parts of the country that were still green with enough annual rainfall. J.R. focused his search on a handful of states in the Ozarks region. He wanted to be close to a major airport and university. Eventually, J.R. found this new home in northwest Arkansas, sixty-five acres outside of Fayetteville in Cane Hill. It’s a beautiful piece of the Ozarks, and he is determined to keep it that way. J.R. is passionate about preserving the land for a good reason.

Photo: Courtesy, Learntofarm.org

During his years living in Los Angeles, J.R. witnessed the area farms and nature disappear to progress and urban encroachment. Younger generations lost interest in farming. Farmland was sold to property developers for more money than could be earned in production. This is a pattern he sees threatening northwest Arkansas. He wants to do something about it, at least with his piece of land.

J.R. wants to make sure Skylight Ranch is kept pristine, peaceful, and used for farming and nature even after he is gone. This is part of his legacy plan and a primary reason for entering the CAFF Farm School. He wants to learn regenerative farming methods and teach them to others at his farm. On the property, he is restoring the native species while creating hiking trails and campsites through the fields and surrounding forest. It’s a dream of the beauty of northwest Arkansas open to all who come with respect for it, seeking to be renewed, to learn, and experience it.

Photo: Courtesy, Learntofarm.org

J.R. Capps has put everything into that dream. He is working hard to give something back to the land and share it with others.

Find more information on The CAFF Farm School at LearnToFarm.org. CAFF is part of the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture.

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