Nonprofit Helps Murrieta Veteran Grow Farm Business
While San Diegans feasted on burgers and hot dogs on Memorial Day, chickens and pigs in Murrieta were chomping on lush grass. The green fields are thanks to a program that's helping veterans become farmers.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition gave Primal Pastures owner and former Marine Intelligence Officer Paul Greive a $5,000 grant to pay for a drought-friendly irrigation system. It waters large expanses of pasture while limiting evaporation.
"We were so cash-strapped. We didn't have investors. We didn't come from money," said Greive, 30. "Everything was really bootstrap, so having that grant to just get up and get running with some basic equipment was totally critical."
Those pastures are the backbone of Greive's operation. He specializes in grass-fed chicken, pork, lamb and beef.
He fell into the business almost on accident.
An arthritis diagnosis during his time in the armed services forced him to take a look at his diet. He started eating healthier foods and paying attention to where they came from. When he returned from a tour in Iraq, he bought 50 chicks for his family to raise for food.
Fifty turned into 100, which turned into 500. Today Greive raises and sells about 20,000 chickens and other livestock on more than 40-acres near Old Town Murrieta.
The job is a disciplined dance. Sheep and pigs graze patches of land before rotating elsewhere. Behind them, chickens peck at the shortened grass blades. Their droppings fertilize the soil for another round.
"All of the different animals work together, and it's just like it happens in nature," Greive said.
The well-oiled system and a small army of graying farm dogs make it hard to believe Greive has only been in business for a few years – and even harder to believe he doesn't have a background in farming. Greive grew up in downtown Seattle and said he owes much of his success to the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
"They also come along side you with mentors, with people that have been in the industry a long time and can give you the best advice," Greive said. "So it's not just money."
Greive said he, too, has become a resource for other farmers and has built a circle of peers. Down the freeway in Oceanside, Gold Coast Mead is also a member of the coalition. (Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.)
Greive said soldiers are made for farming, even if they don't all know it.
"Stuff like determination, overcoming (challenges) with minimal tools and without the right equipment," Greive said, "that's perfect stuff for entrepreneurship and for farming."