Veteran Farmers

Posted on November 12, 2012


Nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are from rural communities. Yet more than 20 percent of veterans are unemployed. As they readjust to civilian life and look for new work and opportunities, several organizations are there to help soldiers begin careers in agriculture.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote a letter last Saturday, Nov. 10, on the subject of veteran farmers.  He talked about what the USDA is doing to provide opportunities for returning soldiers interested in ag-related careers, and spoke to its importance:

Today, more than 6 million veterans live in our small towns and rural communities, a higher concentration than any other part of the country. That is not a surprise to me. Our veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of their country, and a sense of duty to give back to a nation that has done so much for us all.

Although the federal government doesn’t have a specific program for veteran farmers and ranchers, the USDA supports several groups that are working to fill this need. In February, the USDA teamed with the American Legion to help reach more rural veterans.  The USDA Veterans Employment Program office also exists to help veterans find job placement within the department.

The Veteran Farmers Project, a branch of the Center for Rural Affairs, is among a number of independent organizations seeking to bridge the gap between returning soldiers and the ag industry.

This Friday, Nov. 16, CFRA is offering a free web-based seminar for returning veterans. The day-long event will include workshops hosted by experts on topics ranging from finances to agriculture, tours of successful farms in Kansas and Nebraska, personal assistance from experienced farmers and a hotline to help answer questions and provide more information.

The CFRA has hosted similar events in the past. The webinars are among many resources the center offers to beginning farmers of all backgrounds.  Their website describes why agriculture can fit so well into a veteran’s life:

This work can fulfill veterans’ sense of service, provide a healing atmosphere to reenter civilian life, and support rural communities in need of young families and economic revitalization.

Other organizations possess a similar mission, including the Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization helping veterans find jobs, and Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a project of the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture. The Veteran’s Sustainable Agriculture Program at MiraCosta College located in Oceanside, California is a six-week course on sustainable farming practices and farm management.

But this mission doesn’t just exist on the level of national non-profits.  Rural communities around the country are extending helping hands to America’s hometown heroes in uniform.  Every Veteran’s Day, Schober’s Farmers Market in New Jersey gives away armloads of fresh produce free to veterans.  The tradition started six years ago, and last year over 1500 veterans showed up.  Or take for example Stephan Hutson of Jacksonville, Texas. A former Marine himself, Hutson now teaches returning soldiers the art of beekeeping and other farming techniques with the Lone Star Military Resource Group.

Both on the local and national level, many Americans are finding ways to honor veterans by seeing that they get a headstart in civilian life on the agricultural front.

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