Jon Darling’s done a little bit of everything. He has degrees in culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management from Johnson & Wales. He was an army ranger deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s spent time serving food, cooking, bartending, and even spinning as a DJ. Now, he’s found his true calling and passion raising meat on Darling Farm in McClellanville, South Carolina.
Darling, who grew up around his grandparents’ dairy farm in New York, always enjoyed cooking. After training to work in restaurants, however, he knew he needed a break. The cooking he really enjoyed was in meals prepared for his family and friends and special events. The restaurant grind just wasn’t for him. Then in 2011, after the 9/11 attacks, while working in his brother-in-law’s tile company, Darling made a life-altering decision: he was going to join the army.
Not only did he join the army, but shortly into basic training, he decided to train to be an Army Ranger. He spent the following four years in the service, deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Africa. He writes on his website that “the time I spent in the Army were some of the best and some of the most challenging times of my life. I loved my unit and highly respect the brave men I worked with.” But the army wasn’t his true calling either and after leaving with honorable conditions, he returned to South Carolina to figure out how he wanted to spend his life.
After a brief, “darker” period, he became an intern at Thornhill Farm, a mixed vegetable and meat farm in McClellanville. There he discovered his love of raising animals and being a part of the farm-to-table local food experience. He brought that love to Darling Farm, his own venture, where he plans to eventually begin growing feed and vegetables for his animals.
Darling recognizes farming as being crucial to his life as a veteran. He says that even if it’s only a temporary job, “vets that are out there struggling to figure out what to do will find that living and working on a farm, with other like minded vets, will [provide] a sense of belonging and build confidence by completing multiple tasks daily, working together, and reconnecting to the land and food that we grow, raise, and eat.” He work with organizations like the Farmer Veteran Coalition and Stag Vets to figure out ways to involve more veterans in farming operations. He hopes to grow Darling Farm to include internship programs and immersive farming programs so veterans will have accessible opportunities to learn the skills needed to work on farms.
If you’re in the McClellanville area (about one hour north of Charleston), you can purchase CSA shares of meat as well as whole or half animals from Darling Farm. Darling Farm is also working on expanding the Mansion, a side venture for the farm that will feature a full stop mobile pig roaster. If you want to taste some of Darling farm’s meat and meet Jon Darling himself, this Friday, they’ll be kicking off the first monthly FARMBAR event at 1600 Meeting Street in Charleston. Darling will be there spinning music, selling meat, and connecting with the community who is helping to make his dream a reality.