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Success Story

From Army to Agriculture

With the help of NRCS, one veteran is improving his family farm through conservation practices
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The Grade Stabilization Structure will also eventually serve as a water source for wildlife and livestock.

Glenn Acres, a 187-acre family ranch tucked into the quiet, rural landscape of Wise County, sits just outside of Bridgeport, Texas. NRCS Texas has been working with the landowner on conservation practices. 

Story and photos compiled by Dee Ann Littlefield, Public Affairs Specialist, Henrietta

From Army to Agriculture (ArcGIS Story Map)

Glenn Acres, a 187-acre family ranch tucked into the quiet, rural landscape of Wise County, sits just outside of Bridgeport, Texas, an area known for hot and humid summers and mild to cool winters.

“It’s our little family paradise,” says Army veteran and beginning farmer Justin Glenn who has lived here with his family since 2020.

From the barn and recreation room, to the backyard pond, to the winding trails leading around the ranch, Glen Acres really is a sort of paradise. You may find yourself riding a mini-ATV to meet your bus at the end of the front drive, hanging out with one of the animals that congregates near the backyard pond, or going further out to explore the trails in the wooded area beyond.

Army Veteran turned rancher Justin Glenn and his four daughters at their rural property in Wise, County, Texas.
Army Veteran turned rancher Justin Glenn and his four daughters at their rural property in Wise County, Texas.

Glenn is dad to four daughters, all under the age of six, as well as a stepson on the brink of the teen years.

“We still live close to the city and have all the modern amenities, but the children also get to keep chickens and rabbits and ducks, and we have cows and go on nature hikes every day,” he says. “I think it’s a really great life for them.”

The ranch has been a refuge for the family and a place he says he and his dad, Steven Glenn, hope one day will become a fulltime job and a place for Steven to retire on.

“Me and my father and family have always desired to have a place that we could actually live on,” says Justin, who explains before the 187 acres, the family had owned a ranch in West Texas.

“We’ve always felt that it’s a great way to raise children. A little more back to the basics,” says Glenn.

After finishing his military service, Glenn says he was fortunate to get a job with the federal government working as a federal officer with the Department of Homeland Security, working at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). His dad works for a security company. With both now working in the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metroplex, he says they sold the ranch in west Texas and started looking around “out here.”

“We just happened to run in and meet the owners of this ranch and the rest is history,” he says.

A History of Service

Clearly no stranger to a strong work ethic, Justin comes from a family with a proud military service record.

His father was Army Airborne for several years and his grandfather was a Marine who served for four years around the time of the Korean War.

“When I had the opportunity, no one pushed me forward toward it or anything,” Justin explains he just felt like it was something he had to do.

Glenn was Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) responsible for locating, identify, and disposing of hazardous unexploded conventional, chemical, and biological ordnance and improvised explosives. He served for six years, completing three combat tours in Iraq and two more in Egypt with the US peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula.

In addition to sharing the tradition of military service, the men also share a love for ranching.

After buying his property in Wise County, Justin soon sought out the help of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Local District Conservationist Ernest Dunson (right) worked one-on-one with Justin to understand his conservation goals and develop a conservation plan to meet them.
After buying his property in Wise County, Justin soon sought out the help of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Local District Conservationist Ernest Dunson (right) worked one-on-one with Justin to understand his conservation goals and develop a conservation plan to meet them.

“My grandfather and my father grew up on a family ranch in Aledo, south of here in Johnson County,” says Glenn. “They grew up ranching and raising cattle and crops.” They got out of it for a while, according to Glenn, but then wound up buying a ranch in west Texas where they ran a small number of cattle.

“This is my first time really getting into it,” says Glenn, who explains that even though he’d been exposed to it and around it his whole life, Glenn Acres is his first time to spearhead the ranching lifestyle.

Getting Ahead of Schedule

Although no longer in the service, Glenn and his dad’s military service experience is serving them well in the ranching business—particularly with the required hard work ethic and determination to put in the hours, even when most people would be resting.

Even though both currently work full-time jobs off the ranch, Glenn and his dad are somehow ahead of schedule when it comes to the conservation work they’ve done on the ranch to improve the 187 acres.

“I guess you could say we’re part-time ranchers, though we probably do as much time on the ranch as we do at the regular jobs,” says Glenn.

“Work is still work, but when you’re doing activities out here on the ranch, whether it’s fencing, running cattle, helping our calves be born and stuff like that, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like more of an accomplishment.”

Like most ranchers, though, they’ve had a little bit of help to get to where they are now.

After purchasing the property, Glenn says he spoke with a friend about the best way to get the land in better condition to bring on cattle. He was directed to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and made a cold call which led him to intersect with fellow military veteran and NRCS Soil Conservationist, Earnest Dunson, out of the Decatur Field Office.

Dunson recalls meeting with Glenn for the first time. “He had told me that he was brand new to it and so any and all suggestions he was open to.”

Since that time, with NRCS’s support, Glenn has worked on a variety of conservation practices through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve and preserve the 187 acres, including rotational grazing and cross fencing to improve and preserve grasses, cross fencing, digging ponds, grade stabilization structures, a planting initiative involving native grasses, and a planned prescribed burn.

“Justin Glenn, with his work ethic on the contract that we have with him through our program, has been amazing,” says Dunson who says they’ve had similar projects to his that don’t get done nearly as quick. Glenn hit the ground running, securing contractors as soon as the contract had been approved, according to Dunson.

“He ultimately ended up finishing his contract two years ahead of schedule,” says Dunson. “It was supposed to be done in 2024. Here we are in 2022 and the last practice will be completed in December of this year.”

Dunson attributes Glenn’s drive in part to his being a military veteran.

“I think lot of that came from him being in the military. It allowed him to prioritize, ‘Okay, this needs to be done at a certain time. If I finish ahead of schedule it’s going to be even better.’ So, he attacked it with that kind of mentality, and it worked out in his favor.”

Improving and Preserving the Land

Justin doing a pasture walk with conservation planning assistance provided by NRCS' Ernest Dunson and Kalissa Garland.
Justin doing a pasture walk with conservation planning assistance provided by NRCS' Ernest Dunson and Kalissa Garland.

In those two years, brush management has increased the Glenn’s ability to grow healthy grass on the land and they’ve even noticed some native grass and flowers emerging in the newly enriched environment.

One of the first things that caught Dunson’s eye on the first site walk, according to Glenn, was a 25-foot-deep gulley.

“In inventorying all of his resources,” says Dunson, “we ended up finding classic gullies which led us to discuss a GSS.”

GSS, or grade stabilization structures, are meant strictly to control any type of class gully erosion. It’s a lot of work, but well worth the effort.

“They are more to control the erosion so it kind of served a dual purpose for all of it combined,” says Dunson who explains that the idea is to put in a dam with a pipe that goes all the way through the dam, allowing water to flow out on a controlled basis instead of gushing down, and at the same time it packs water over the head cut to stop erosion.

The GSS also serves another purpose for Glenn and his family as they’ve managed to maintain what amounts to a small “island” in the center of the pond area of the dam. He’s strung a zipline from one of the banks to the center of the island and says his family enjoys going down on hot days to take advantage of it.

In addition to the GSS, some of the other projects they’ve worked on have included brush management, 3,600-feet in cross fencing, and planting native grasses on about 22 acres on the rangeland.

“The NRCS has been amazing, coming out and educating me. Not just me, but my father also, whose grownup ranching,” says Glenn.

When it comes to ranching practices, family tradition sometimes gets passed down that may not be the best practices for the county you live in.

There’s still more work to be done when the time is right. On the west side of the property, for instance, Dunson points out a huge open area that, while it wasn’t necessarily under-grazed, it was more so undeveloped. Beneath the overgrowth, they discovered dead grass that was stopping any possible growth of the native grasses Glenn wants to see. Together, they’ve designed a burn plan to be executed down the line, which Dunson expects will greatly improve the grass and lead to even more grazeable pasture for Glenn’s cattle.

The rotational grazing they’ve initiated has played a big part into their ability to do cross fencing, according to Glenn who says, “A lot of our grasses are native grasses, so we try not to overgraze them. We leave them on a pasture as little as two weeks up to three weeks and then rotate them onto the next spot.”

As a result of their work on the land, the cattle have done well, and Glenn has been able to take them to auction twice so far.

“Every time we’ve had calves, once they get up to a reasonable age and we can wean them, we take them up there,” he says of the Decatur Livestock Auction. This is where, in addition to private sellers, they’ve also bought a large number of their cattle, thanks to their ability to increase the number of head their land can support.

“Wanting the best for the land, I think, kind of went along with his production goals in general,” says Dunson. “He wanted it to be able to sustain a certain number of head.” While he says Glenn was okay with the limited number he was given initially, he wanted to know how he could make it even better.

Dunson said just by looking at the ground and walking through, he was able to build an entire seed list from those maps and inventories to follow up the brush management, so they could improve Glenn’s grazing along with the fencing—now he could rotate throughout his entire property, utilizing everything that they had.

Hard Work, Home, and Happiness

Ranching has been more than just a living, here at Glenn Acres, it’s become a way of life, as has taking advantage of the opportunity for his family to get connected with nature.

“We look at it as a real blessing to see our calves be born and help them along in that process and raise up our animals, whether it’s the ducks or the chickens or the cattle,” he says.

Just about every day, Glenn pops his kids onto the ATV Mule, and they ride the land together, visiting the cows, as well as walking the trails or fishing at one the several ponds around the property. He talks about the “100” acres where his kids love to roam, explore, discover, and burn off energy, mentioning a secret Harry Potter-like pond that seems to appear out of nowhere out of the brush along one of the trails.

The ranch is important to us,” says Glenn. “We’ve always grown up on the land. It’s kind of a heritage thing, a family, thing, and we’ve been doing it for so many generations. We’re definitely not getting rich doing it, but it does supplement our income and make it affordable for us to live out here.”

Glenn’s children clearly mean the world to him, but so too does his dad, with whom he shares a relationship he describes as “great.”

“We actually get along very well and always have,” says Glenn. “He’s my best friend. We enjoy working together and making these plans together and actually see it happen and come to fruition.”

And just like his grandfather and father before him, serving in the military and working the land is something Glenn says he’s “proud” to have carried on, with Glenn Acres being a special place he hopes to be able to pass along to his own children someday.