Calling a vet to the farm used to mean an animal was sick, but new approaches by government and other agencies are opening the way for military veterans to assume a prominent place in the country’s farm production.
Recent research shows that a number of organizations are steering veterans to the farm and several initiatives are providing training, marketing and financial help to soldiers who wish to return to the nation’s agrarian roots.
Previous reports abound regarding the aging of America’s farm population and the need for strong, young hands to take over the controls of farms and ranches that produce the food and fiber needs for a growing America and a growing world. Military veterans may be a major source.
Of course, agricultural colleges, particularly in California, are enjoying renewed interest and involvement by students who want to prepare for life on the farm, many of them from farm families. They want to be sure they can apply the latest technology, methods, approaches and equipment to capitalize on the natural resources available to them.
The Farmer-Veteran Coalition is an organization that helps returning veterans find employment and training on farms and ranches and in other agriculture-related careers. The University of Nebraska has given rise to Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a program that helps returning vets enter the agricultural industry.
“Armed to Farm” is a program that provides veterans and their spouses an opportunity to see sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises “to learn about the capital, labor and risks involved in farming, as well as the return on investment that is realistically possible.
Since 2012 the World Ag Expo in Tulare encouraged support for the Ag Warriors program, aimed at developing support for veterans looking for jobs or opportunities to go to college, hopefully to develop skills and training for employment in agriculture. Ag Warriors is now being run by AgCareers.com in partnership with the International Agri-Center.
Another vet-to-Ag program that is close to home operates at Cal Poly Pomona. It is called Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, providing training and agricultural skills “to help veterans start farms or ranches or obtain other jobs in the agricultural sector.”
Veterans Farm is a program that helps veterans reintegrate into society through a beginning farmer fellowship, encouraging them to learn the skills and gain the education needed to start their own local farm or work for larger farming organizations.
A very specific program is “Veterans to Farmers,” which provides American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution – the family farm.
U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke recently about the vets to Ag movement. He extended comments about the statistics indicating that about 45 percent of members of the armed services are from rural America.
“Rural family and agricultural families send their sons and daughters into military service and community service more frequently and in greater numbers,” Vilsack said.
A recent chart from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service shows 3.9 million veterans living in rural areas today. Those who have serviced make up 10 percent of the rural population.
Other leaders are recognizing the benefits of combining the groundwork of day to day farming with the tough-as-nails determination of combat experience. Nobody has commented yet about the strength of the two in a political context. That might be because we have seen so little groundwork or determination from our political representatives recently.