Last year we conducted a series of workshops for Armed Services veterans who want to farm. Boy did we learn a lot!
Nearly half the veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hailed from rural towns, and many now want to farm. A range of training and educational programs is becoming available around the country for these prospective farmers.
One pioneer is Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, with its special Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots business ownership and technical agriculture curriculum. Other classroom programs are run by university Extension services or community colleges, or hands-on training is provided by farms.
Our workshops for veterans provided face-to-face meetings between veterans and resource providers, conversations with farmers, and information on resources and strategies to begin farming and ranching. We included classroom sessions, farm tours, and a web broadcast with virtual farm tours. Kansas Farmers Union, our major partner on the project, held similar sessions in Kansas. The activities were funded by USDA Risk Management Agency.
We also engaged state AgrAbility projects, which provide technical advice to disabled farmers. Many of our participants had experienced some form of disability. They welcomed encouragement that a farm dream could be realized despite physical or emotional disability.
Veterans told us they preferred to attend these sessions alongside other veterans, rather than at public meetings. They felt other veterans would understand and support them because of their shared experiences. They also valued the opinions of other veterans over agencies and academics, especially veterans who had experienced the process of farm startup. Our virtual farm tour with former Marine Garrett Dwyer became an example of the intense interest his success generated among other veterans.
Most of the veterans who participated in Nebraska and Kansas had very limited resources, so were interested in starting small and with minimal financial risk. They wanted to know about high value crops and livestock, and direct marketing. Since that time, USDA Farm Service Agency has moved to implement a smaller, easier-to-apply “Microloan” program that fits this type of farming operation.
We also included a partner to specifically address the intersection of veteran benefits and farm startup. Farmer Veteran Coalition advises on farm business management, veterans’ benefits, and connecting with experienced farmer-veterans as mentors.
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