Food Tank

Elliott Brennan.

25 Programs Teaching Military Veterans to Farm

By Elliott Brennan.

In honor of the Fourth of July, Food Tank is celebrating military veterans by highlighting 25 organizations around the United States that help veterans transition to healthy, meaningful civilian lives in agriculture.

By providing a roadmap to a career in farming, these companies, NGOs, and universities are helping veterans translate their skills and discipline from the military to the equally important mission of producing the nation’s food supply. These organizations provide veterans with job and skills training, connection to financial and technical resources, and assistance in the difficult task of acquiring land. They also help participants heal from wounds of all kinds and to overcome the stigma, mistreatment, and misunderstanding that military veterans often face.

Currently, there are more than 20 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Services. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced more combat veterans, and finding ways to transition soldiers from war to civilian life is critically important right now. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41 percent of veterans who served since 2001 have a service-related disability, and there are approximately 370,000 unemployed veterans in the United States.

Teaching veterans to farm is promising both for the American military and for the American food system. These projects are not only helping veterans succeed in feeding and protecting their families and communities, they are also helping to build a brighter and more resilient food system for us all. These organizations are yet another reminder of the power of food systems to heal and build a strong, vibrant society.

1. Archi’s Institute is an agricultural training program aimed at military veterans located on a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic hydroponic produce operation in Escondido, California. Founded by Colin Archipley, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and his wife, Karen Archipley, Archi’s Institute acts as an agricultural entrepreneurial incubator program. The military veterans who participate receive a unique education both in food production and in business management. Conducted in partnership with Cal Poly Pomona, Archi’s Institute awards a certificate in sustainable agriculture to participants who complete the program.

2. Armed to Farm (ATF) is a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) providing sustainable agriculture training for veterans. Through a combination of farm tours and classroom instruction, the program focuses on business planning, livestock production, and fruit and vegetable production. NCAT specialists provide reliable information to participating veterans concerning sustainable and organic agriculture, how to get started in farming, how to qualify for government programs that reward land stewardship and resource conservation, and how to pursue profitable niche markets such as organic meats and grains or agriculture tourism.

3. BattleGround to Breaking Ground (BGBG) serves veterans in Texas and across the country by providing online and hands-on education in all areas of production agriculture. Founded through a partnership between the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the USDA New Farmers Veterans Program, BGBG focus on sustainable farm business practices through a three-phase training: an agricultural workshop, an online business planning course, and a hands-on education in agricultural production. Through this organization, veterans can gain business planning assistance, connections to funding for farm businesses, and valuable knowledge and skills.

4. Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots is a program of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture that prepares eligible military personnel, their families, and armed forces veterans to become farmers and ranchers. By utilizing existing programs funded by the federal government and various state and local agencies, the program helps to create successful business succession plans that match participants with existing farm, business, or ranch owners.

5. The Organic Farming Certificate Program offered by Delaware Valley University is a one-year program in partnership with the Rodale Institute. The curriculum combines classroom courses on animal science, marketing, vegetable production, organic crop science, entomology, weed management, and sustainable agriculture. Delaware Valley College is a yellow-ribbon school, meaning that they allow veteran students to pay tuition via grants provided through the GI bill as well as receive a housing allowance through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

6. The Enhancing Veterans Farm Fellows Program at the Veterans Farm enrolls combat veterans from every era in a three-month intensive training curriculum to teach them everything from creating a business plan to growing organic produce. The Florida-based organization also works in south Georgia, and focuses on providing services to veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other related injuries, as well as young veterans most at-risk of unemployment.

7. The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) is an organization committed to cultivating the next generation of food leaders by bringing together the farming and military communities. The FVC encompasses a number of programs dedicated to this mission, including the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, which provides direct assistance to veterans who are in their first few years of farming. The FVC helps to convene the broad community around training veterans in agriculture.

8. Farmers Assisting Returning Military (FARM) was founded by Iraq War veterans James Jeffers and Steve Smith after they founded an urban farming business called Eat the Yard. After learning firsthand how rewarding and fulfilling farming could be for soldiers seeking to reintegrate into civilian life, they launched FARM to support others like them. They run a Future Farmer Internship Program, which is a cooperative educational hands-on training program for veterans who want to explore careers in agriculture.

9. Growing Careers in Agriculture, a program of the FVC, provides training and apprenticeships to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apprenticeships are paid, last three to six months, and accompany educational and training opportunities with organic farms and artisan food businesses in northern California, though the program plans to expand nationally. Participating veterans are paired with individual FVC case managers. FVC works with former members of the armed forces in 48 states through other programs.

10. Growing Warriors Project is a national veteran-oriented food security organization based in central Kentucky. By working to equip veterans and their communities to grow and preserve high-quality, naturally grown produce through a hands-on curriculum, the project seeks to help veterans build important community roles for themselves as they transition back to civilian life. Since 2012, the program has helped more than 65 veteran families grow tens of thousands of pounds of organic food.

11. Heroic Food is a New York-based, tuition-free farmer-training program for military veterans in partnership with the FVC. The nonprofit offers a Full-Year Immersion (FYI) training program with a holistic support system, including paid training positions on mentor farms and housing. The immersion program qualifies trainees for farm crew leadership and assistant manager positions by teaching them professional levels of competence in both production and management skills. The program also offers Farm Entry Short Courses (FESCs), including seminar and hands-on workshops for veterans who are new to agriculture or interested in farming.

12. Homegrown By Heroes is a brand certification that designates food grown by veterans. Sponsored by the FVC, the Homegrown By Heroes label also certifies farms and agricultural businesses that veterans own and operate. The label raises awareness for the role that veterans play in the American food system and creates a premium value for veteran-grown crops.

13. Hope Farms is a Houston-area farmer training program run by Recipe for Success that prioritizes the selection of veterans as paid farm trainees. With the goal of preparing trainees to establish their own successful urban farming enterprises, the program teaches sustainable horticulture, financial literacy, farm accounting, marketing and sales, crop planning, and produce controls. The Recipe for Success Team helps match graduates to available urban land to help kickstart their enterprises. Graduates also enroll as members of the Hope Farms Co-op, a support program including advice and counsel, organic growing classes, access to equipment, co-op branding and distribution of products, and an on-site farmers market.

14. The New Farmers Veterans Program at USDA gives veterans access to a variety of employment, educational, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Under the broad mission of making veterans critical actors in the vitality, safety, and sustainability of the food system, USDA prioritizes veterans for employment in federal offices related to agriculture and resource conservation. The USDA also guides veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture through various educational paths at land-grant colleges and through extension services.

15. Operation Groundwork is a non-profit organization focused on the therapeutic benefits of farming for veterans who have suffered a combat injury or who are adjusting to a new disability. Located in North Salem, Indiana, and founded by an Air Force veteran, Operation Groundwork offers educational trainings for farmers on Blue Yonder Organic Farm. The organization is founded around the idea that farming can play a unique role in the recovery of the physical, spiritual, and psychological wounds from war.

16. The Recipe for Success Foundation in Houston, Texas, focuses on combating childhood obesity by making healthy food appealing and available to everyone. The Foundation promotes a culture in which children appreciate and celebrate fresh, healthy food. At their seven-acre Hope Farms in the middle of Houston, the organization trains veterans to become agricultural entrepreneurs by growing affordable produce for their neighbors.

17. The Rodale Institute’s Veteran Farmer Program provides on-farm internships for military veterans to learn directly about the valuable principles of sustainable, regenerative agriculture. Located on 333 acres of farmland in Pennsylvania, the Rodale Institute has long been a premier model for sustainable agriculture practices. Veterans who participate receive the opportunity to complete a general internship, a livestock internship, or an agriculture supported community internship.

18. Semper Fresh Farms is a local networking and work placement organization in Monterey County, California, run by two U.S. Marine Corps veterans. The farm works in conjunction with veteran organizations, such as the FVC, as well as many local growers to provide a range of opportunities for participating veterans to build diverse skill sets. The program aims to help transitioning veterans obtain the necessary skills to operate sustainable farms, oversee farm-to-table production, and understand the logistics of growing seasons.

19. Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education (SAVE) Farm will be a teaching farm with an adjacent healing center that assists veterans in transitioning to a career in agriculture. In partnership with the Kansas State University Colleges of Architecture and of Agriculture, SAVE staff has created both business and architectural plans for the new center, and is now working on funding. In the meantime, they have trained 184 transitioning soldiers and 24 veterans in beekeeping and other small-scale agriculture skills. The organization’s objective is to eventually open a SAVE Farm at every land-grant college in the United States.

20. Veterans Agricultural Center of Connecticut (VACC) provides both training and therapy to returning combat and interested veterans through a six to eight-week hands-on training paired with online training. VACC provides instruction with a focus on organic hybrid-hydroponic systems. The goal of the program is to prepare veterans to start home-based farms or businesses. By the end of the program, participants will be employable for greenhouse operations, cooperatives, farm management, produce delivery, or sales.

21. Veteran Farmers of America (VFA) currently offers paid, two-week internships for veterans at a variety of local farms and agricultural facilities in Ventura County, California. Placements can focus on many kinds of operations, including row crop production, animal husbandry, hydroponics, organics or conventional farming, office management, and warehouse operations. VFA has long-term plans to expand operations to include a veteran-operated farm and a scholarship program.

22. The Veteran Farmer Program is a hands-on program of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture that encourages veterans to engage in organic and regenerative farming practices to capitalize on an ever-growing market of local, sustainable food. They operate a 10-month Veteran Farmer Reserve Program for veterans interested in exploring agriculture without committing to a full-time training program. They also provide a one-year, intensive on-farm training program called the Veteran Farm Fellowship Program. Participants are involved in all aspects of Arcadia’s farm, located in the Washington, D.C., area, including food access and distribution, working with local chefs and retailers, and farm and nutrition education. The Fellowship Program also offers an optional second year in which Fellows are placed in paid externships at local sustainable farms.

23. Veteran Farmers Project is a program of the Center for Rural Affairs that gives veterans, almost a million of whom come from rural communities, an opportunity to return to their agricultural roots and reinvigorate America’s small farms. The Project provides veterans with business and agricultural education to help them succeed as farmers, regardless of experience level. VFP staff can coordinate personalized individual consultations and counseling for participating veterans who have questions regarding farm production, business, and financing.

24. Veterans to Farmers (VTF) strives to bring family farming back to the forefront of the American landscape. U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams founded VTF in 2011 after overwhelming interest from veterans in his organic greenhouse employment program. Upon completion of their 12-week educational program, VTF provides employment support to participating veterans. The VTF program is built around the understanding that farming utilizes many of the same skills as are required in the military, including hard work and attention to detail.

25. Vets to Ag is a program at Michigan State University that trains homeless U.S. veterans to work in agriculture. Participants learn plant and soil science, equipment operation, integrated pest management, computer skills, and other topics. The program includes room and board for the entire training period, as well as both classroom instruction and hands-on training. The program also integrates job preparation and employer outreach skills.

Elliott is a farmer and a Research & Writing Fellow at Food Tank. His research interests include global food security and the role of agriculture in economic development. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

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