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San Diego Union Tribune

Practical Training Helps Urban Farm Venture Bloom​ || VETERANS IN THE WORKPLACE

Stepheni Norton and her husband, Mike, own Dickinson Farm, a year-round heirloom fruit, vegetable and herb farm National City. She purchased the Wallace D. Dickinson homestead in February 2012 and has turned it into a viable business that includes online orders and community distribution.

"Thanks to my military training. I have become a Jack of all-trades, Norton said. "I set the company mission, vision and goals. I have created business plan, and operation plan, a marketing and sales plan, and financial plan and budget. I manage the website and online store, write press releases and articles and manage customer feedback. In addition, I plant the crops, weed, pack orders and manage the weekly market. She joined the Coast Guard Reserves in 2010 at age 36 after working with the auxiliary for years, and soon entered active duty. In 2013, she was selected as Reserve Enlisted Person of the Year and by May was advanced to Chief Petty Officer. She was named Lead Yeoman for the Deepwater Horizon decontamination team and deployed for 10 months to the Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Other skills include sexual assault victims advocate, applied suicide intervention skills peer, critical incident management peer and first responder crisis hostage negotiator.

"When Mike and I first dated, we half jokingly made a list of everything we wanted in a home - six bedrooms, land, architecture with character, room for a seven-car garage and a view of the ocean in Southern California" Norton said. But she found the property, saw it the next day and made an offer.

Difficult challenges came next. She was bit by a tick and left on her 10 month deployment before being diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, When she returned, her doctor suggested that she eat fresh and as healthy as possible. “That’s when we noticed fresh produce was hard to come by in National City,” she said. With little experience, the couple planted trees and vegetables that thrived. They gave extra crops to Dreams for Change to help feed others who could not afford produce. In January, the garden became 16 raised boxes, a small orchard, a hops patch, 20 rows of heirloom fruits, 4 rows of coffee bean plants. Licenses were obtained and Dickinson Farm opened for business.

I got notice of my medical retirement less than a month before leaving the reserves, so the transition was extremely difficult. Hearing about your benefits is the easy part, getting them setup and usable is a completely different story, “ Norton said.

But she has learned persistence, focusing on the mission and juggling priorities.

“In entrepreneurship you are most likely going to be both elated and disappointed everyday," she said. "Remembering the mission will help you stop focusing on the disappointments and get the job done."

Photo Credit ME3 Steven Bolz, USCGR

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