Veterans Farming Bison: An All American Story

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Bison Farmer Liz Riffle is nothing short of amazing. She's a Navy Veteran, a nurse. She's married to a Navy nurse practitioner with a preference for trauma care who's on active duty. They are both in their 30s and to retire they decided to farm BISON. American Bison. Home on the Range Bison! It's an amazing story and a fascinating conversation!


Come with me -- your host, Farm Girl -- into a new Talk Farm to Me series: Straight Talk! It's a first cut, one take recording of my conversation with a farmer. And today, that farmer is bison farmer Liz Riffle of Riffle Farms in West Virginia. We talk about her majestic herd, how her military service prepared her for farming, her seriously Straight Talk on harvesting animals and how to be an honest carnivore. You will fall in love with Liz, her fierce spirit and her one-ton compatriots.


If you like what you hear, please let us know! The best way to support this podcast is to write a review on the iTunes podcast app. You can also share it with friends or with the world on Instagram (if you do, please tag me @xoxofarmgirl and @talkfarmtome). YOU are the very best way to get more people to listen to Talk Farm to Me and to get to know more farmers, like Liz, and their amazing stories.


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Talk farm soon!

xoxo, Farm Girl



SHOW NOTES

The book that Liz mentions in our discussion is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I provide a link for you in my Amazon profile, in case you are interested.


GUESTS

Liz Riffle, Bison Farmer, Riffle Farms

Find Liz and Riffle Farms on Instagram at @RiffleFarms5160


PHOTOS

All of the photos were provided by the farmer and used with permission. Merci beaucoup.


MUSIC

The music in this episode was created specifically for Talk Farm to Me by professional musician and songwriter Douglas Haines via Fiverr.


SPECIAL THANKS

Always thank you to the amazing farmers who have been on any episode of Talk Farm to Me. Thank you Liz for being the first farmer in the Straight Talk series!


TRANSCRIPT

For those of you who cannot listen to the podcast or prefer to read it, here's a full transcript. Please forgive any typos.


Farm Girl:

Hey, it's Farm Girl, your host for Talk Farm to Me. Welcome to our new Straight Talk series. This series features a first take, one cut recording of a conversation with one farmer. And we get into it.


I am so excited to introduce you to Liz Riffle. Liz, together with her husband Jimmy, farm bison. You know, American Buffalo. One ton animals with giant, majestic profiles, and a storied American history. I'm not sure if I could bring you a more American tale. Liz and Jimmy are veterans. They are farmers. They share their lives with a herd of bison. You are going to love Liz. And just a warning, we get down and dirty on some pretty important issues. I'm pretty sure that this episode will leave you with plenty to think about.


Farm Girl:

I wanted to start at the beginning with you, really about you and your husband. And your status as veterans. I want to understand your service and to hear from you about that.


Liz Riffle:

We met while on active duty in the military. So I was a Navy nurse for six years. And we both met doing wounded warrior care, actually, in Bethesda, Maryland. So we took care of guys, mostly guys, it was very few females. But mostly guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, 24 hours post-injury. So it was a lot. And I was young. Jimmy's got a few years on me, so he wasn't quite as young, and he was in the military previously. He was prior-enlisted. So he enlisted in the military when he was 17. And was able to go back to school a couple times, and ended up being a nurse.


Liz Riffle:

And so that's how we met on that floor, because we both ended up being stationed at the same place. Which was very cool. And we learned a lot together, and started hanging out more. And then eventually, it became more of a romantic thing. So we then crossed the nation, and we were stationed in Bremerton, Washington for a little bit together. And that's where we decided to get married. We actually got married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because we're both outdoors men and skiers and stuff. And that is where the buffalo still roam. And that's where that idea kind of started to peak our interest, as well.


Liz Riffle:

So we got married, and I decided to get out of the military a few years after we got married, just because we were at the point where we wanted to start a family. And the military wasn't playing real nice with us in regards to stationing us together. So I can be a nurse out of the military, so I chose to do that. And then he only had about five years left when we made that decision, until retirement. So we decided to come back to the East coast and make some plans in regards to retirement. And what we were going to do from there.


Liz Riffle:

So he was born and raised in West Virginia. So we chose to kind of come back to the East coast. We're currently now in the Norfolk area. Norfolk, Virginia, Virginia Beach, while he finishes out a couple more years. He is still active duty and is a nurse practitioner in the emergency room. At this point, he loves the trauma care. So that's his thing.


Farm Girl:

Well, thank you to him, and to you, also, for your service. And yes, if you're built for trauma care, we need you out there.


Farm Girl:

So how many years did you serve as a nurse in the Navy, then?


Liz Riffle:

I did 6 1/2 years as a nurse. So, yeah. It was a wild experience, let me tell you. I learned a lot. It was hard. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of hours. I, actually, myself, was never deployed overseas. But I saw what was coming back from overseas.


Farm Girl:

Explain that a little bit to me, what you saw.


Liz Riffle:

Sure. Kind of like I was saying before, we took care of the, primarily men, young Marines, who were in different fights. Maybe that's not probably the best term for this. But, that came back and were blown up, honestly, to pieces. And that was really hard to see when I was 22, and taking care of a young man who was 19 and no longer had limbs. Missing multiple limbs. And some of them were missing all of their limbs. And some of these guys were trying to come back to fiances or trying to come back to families. And it rocked their worlds.


Liz Riffle:

So it was a wonderful learning experience to see what the body can do, and what it can make it through, and how we as human beings are so programmed to live. And your body wants to just fix it. It's like, "Okay, I don't have an arm. Fine, we're going to fix this. We're going to get through this." The will to live is amazing. From the physical and the mental standpoint. That's a lot of what I saw.


Liz Riffle:

So we took care of quite a few folks who got The Purple Heart, because they saved other men in their platoon. We had one young guy who put his helmet over a grenade that exploded. And kind of blew apart his face. But he saved the other five guys who were in that squad doing that mission that morning.


Liz Riffle:

So, we still keep in touch. Facebook's a nice thing, because you can kind of track some of these guys and how they're doing. I had a guy who was in a Humvee who was the driver, unfortunately, and drove over an IED. And it exploded and killed all of his passengers. So he was having a really hard time with that, and he broke his back and almost didn't live through that, just because of the injuries he had on his spinal cord and things like that.


Liz Riffle:

But he lived through that, and his big thing was he wanted to be able to walk his sister down the aisle. And so, that was what his goal was throughout all of his rehabbing. And he did it. He did a great job. And the pictures, I remember seeing the pictures on Facebook. They were fabulous. So that was really, really cool.


Liz Riffle:

And then I had one guy, too, come back to me. He was a triple amputee. So it was above the knee on one side, and I think above both of his elbows. And he got a prosthetic arm, and I remember when he was practicing with that arm, and he came up to the unit to find me, and he's like, "Hey Liz." He's like, "Check this out." And he wrote his name for me on my paper. Which was really cool. And just so inspiring, that these guys are just like... They want to keep going.


Liz Riffle:

A lot of them joined the military for a reason, and they've got that drive. And so that drive is what helped keep them going. And that young man, specifically, now is a professional paraplegic athlete. He does a lot of biking racing and stuff like that. So it's really fun to watch him, too.


Liz Riffle:

So those are the types of things that have stayed with me and will obviously stay with me for forever. It was kind of like the pinnacle and the nadir of my military career, I feel like. It was both. It was both awesome and terrible, all at the same time. So it was crazy. And it built me. It built my drive, it's why I feel like everyday I go out and make the most of everyday. Because sometimes some people don't get that opportunity anymore. And when I was at the bedside telling some of these young men that, "Hey, there's so much to live for. Think of all the cool things you can still do, and be with your young daughter," or, "Still, taking a dog for a walk, even if you're in a wheelchair," and just some of those really super simple things that a lot of us tend to take for granted, I chose to no longer take for granted and really live life to the fullest every single day.


Liz Riffle:

Also from that perspective was the fact that we were both still active duty military, and one or both of us could be deployed at any time, to any of those places, as well. And so, still with Jimmy active duty, when we're together, I make the most of our time. We both have decided to really focus on that, and focus on us as a couple, because we never know. Within 24 hours, he could be deployed. And then you don't know when you're going to see them again. And then unfortunately, I mean, you hope they're going somewhere safe. But they're not always going somewhere safe.


Liz Riffle:

I always tell him when he's trying to pack his bags, and he gets 24 hours to, "Oh my gosh, are we going somewhere?" And I always look at him, I'm like, "You come home to me. You better come home to me. I don't care if you're in pieces, you're coming home to me." But that's always our thing, and it's just because of the background we have, and what we've seen. So it's always in the back of your mind.


Farm Girl:

You have a lot of really amazing American stories all wrapped into that you just shared.


Liz Riffle:

Yeah, yeah. That's all American, you know?


Farm Girl:

All American. So there's another American story that we're going to talk about today. And that is the American Bison, which I'm very excited to talk with you about. I was looking at the history of the bison in America, and back in the 1500's there were more than 30 million bison.


Liz Riffle:

Yes.


Farm Girl:

Incredible. And then, by the end of the 1800's, while white settlers were moving West, we went down to 325 bison from more than 30 million.


Really incredible conservation story that we are now at 500,000 bison across the United States. And there are 5,000 in Yellowstone Park, which is an incredible feat, of wild American Bison. And I wanted to share, too, that in May of 2016, the American Bison was anointed as the first national mammal to take it's place alongside the bald eagle as an American symbol.


Farm Girl:

And so, who better to talk to then a Navy veteran who has incredible patriotic American background and, I know hundreds of stories. Thank you for sharing the ones that you did. But I'd like to talk to you about the bison, really, as an animal. What are they like? How do they behave as individuals?


Farm Girl:

How do th