Returning veterans face many challenges transitioning back to civilian life. Many veterans suffer from PTSD; they also have higher rates of divorce, depression, and suicide than the general public. And they’re more likely to be unemployed.
In recent years, thousands of veterans have shown an interest in farming. Several nonprofit organizations, including the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and universities have launched programs to facilitate the entry of veterans into agricultural enterprises. These programs not only include educational opportunities, but links to apprenticeships and other job opportunities.
And the government is also helping. The 2014 Farm Bill designated veterans as a distinct class of beginning farmers within the USDA. This provides veterans access to low-interest rate loans to buy animals and equipment, and enables them to apply for USDA grants. The USDA has even hired its first military veterans agriculture liaison.
The entry of veterans into farming may help with a demographic challenge facing the nation’s agricultural sector: the aging of the American farmer.
“When you look at the population growth, we’re naturally going to need more and more producers to keep pace with the growing demand,” said Karis Gutter, the USDA’s first military veterans agriculture liaison. “The veterans cadre looks very promising for us.”
Adding to the imperative behind the program is another important demographic: nearly half of the two and a half million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have returned to rural counties.
“It’s an absolute natural fit,” Gutter said. “Many of the men and women who have served come from rural backgrounds and get training to work with their hands and have a natural instinct for entrepreneurship.”
Related Links: Our friends at Food Tank provide a listing of 21 organizations from around the world that are working to help veterans (and their families) through farming and agriculture. The listings include programs from Texas to Cambodia. The authors invite you to email them with information about other programs serving veterans that they may have missed.
You can read the Food Tank piece by clicking here.
An historical note from the UC Food Observer: Connecting veterans to possibilities with the land dates back in America to the pre-Revolutionary War era, when veterans of the French and Indian War – the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War being fought in Europe – received land grants for their military service. During the World War I (WWI) era, the University of California partnered with the State of California to create two land resettlement colonies, in part to serve returning WWI veterans. The Land Settlement Act of 1917 provided funds to purchase more than 6,000 acres in Butte County, and the Durham colony was started. A second colony – Delhi – was started in Merced County. For additional information, you can click on this link to reach a free Google document that contains primary source (i.e., from the period) material about Durham and Delhi.