A growing number of resources are available nationwide for returning veterans interested in farming careers: With funding from the USDA and other sources, various projects are underway specifically for veterans.
One very noteworthy project comes from the Center for Veterans’ Issues (CVI), which is beginning a redevelopment project, the Veterans’ Food Project, in Milwaukee. This program seeks to renovate foreclosed, inner-city properties to make them clean, safe, energy-efficient, and affordable, simultaneously creating a space for farming and gardening that will bring these neighborhoods together. CVI initiated an organic therapy program specifically for veterans with a therapeutic goal in mind, but also aims to help veterans develop valuable skills in group-centered leadership and management, social interaction, team building, and healthy living. The goal is to enable veterans to acquire job skills in the field of farming while they recover from traumatic experiences. Currently more than 70 veterans practice farming at CVI. The tranquility that this work provides has helped many of them overcome past obstacles and build community with others who have gone through a similar situation. As a bonus, training and working in the Food Production Project has familiarized the veterans with a range of new and healthful dietary options.
Meanwhile, an organic farm in San Diego called Archi’s Acres trains veterans in hydroponics and other sustainable farming techniques. Archi’s Acres was founded by Colin Archipley, an Iraq war veteran, and his wife Karen. Their Veterans Sustainable Agricultural Training (VSAT) attempts to recreate the closeness of the military unit for the veterans while teaching them farming skills. It also provides down time that facilitates a smooth transition out of military combat, and provides veterans with the information they need to start their own farm. Archi’s Acres’ main crop is basil, but they grow many other vegetables, including lettuce, kale, mint, tomatoes, and cilantro.
Another notable project, Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Florida, aims to help disabled veterans reintegrate into society by giving them the chance to farm and garden. The farm also tries to create a connection between the veterans and the civilian community in general, and to educate the public about the health benefits of eating organic food. Veterans Farm was founded by Sgt. Adam Burke, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After coming back to the United States, he realized that many returning veterans needed a way to get their life back on track. Eventually, Veterans Farm was founded, which would combine “…therapy, work, education, and socialization…” through growing blueberries and blackberries.
One place where the technical training needs of veterans are addressed is at The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA), based at the University of Nebraska. Their program called Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots is intended to help military personnel and veterans become farmers and ranchers after retiring from military service. NCTA does so by using various programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, and assorted state and local agencies. The University of Nebraska works with the USDA Farm Service Agency to help participants select the type of business model that will best meet their goals.
It is good news to see that these organizations are involving veterans in farming and gardening. These efforts not only add to the number and diversity of those pursuing a farming career, but also allow for a transition out of military life by providing veterans the opportunity to build community and gain valuable skills that will contribute to the growing movement for local, sustainable foods.