In honor of Veteran’s Day, (Wednesday, November 11) I’m writing about a great program that works to train returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as farmers: The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). The FVC, whose motto reads “Farmers Helping Veterans…Veterans Helping Farmers,” aims to create a mutually beneficial service to both farmers and veterans.
“The mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is to mobilize our food and farming community to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans,” reads their website, “by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities, and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all.”
The FVC helps returning veterans find employment, training and “places to heal on America’s farms.”
At the same time FVC hopes that training these young veterans may help address our country’s critical need for more good, hard-working people entering the field of agriculture.
The group points out that the sustainable farming movement and growing support for local and regional agriculture and small farms will likely mean that there will be an increased need for full-time farmers in the United States.
FVC also points out that there has been a disproportionate number of soldiers in the military coming from rural communities. Often, these soldiers return home and are unable to find work. The unemployment rates in rural areas has only increased with the current US economic crisis. This has created a shortage of younger workers who are choosing to move to urban areas.
For those who want to remain in a rural area, the FVC helps provide farming as a viable economic option, whether this means helping soldiers improve farms that are already started by their family or providing veterans with the resources to start farming for the very first time.
In addition, America’s farmers are aging, with the average age being between 55 and 58 years old. They have nobody to pass their farms on to and agriculture needs young, trained farmers to revitalize it and begin farming.
As FVC points out, veterans and farming are a good fit. The hard work and dedication that farms require make a good place for returning veterans who are used to hard work, discipline, and dedication.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition is working to meet its goal of placing 180 new farmers in the next three years through apprenticeships, internships, formal education, and one-on-one mentoring. They are also developing a farmer-mentor network to assist in direct on-farm education.
Those who are interested in supporting their work can offer jobs or training. They are also looking for volunteers to help with tasks such as fundraising, or you can also donate services or items such as housing, transportation and facilities. Monetary donations are also accepted online.
For those veterans interested in employment and training opportunities, the Farmers Veterans Coalition can help get you started. In addition, their website provides great general veteran’s resources, links to jobs, and information on available land and farm programs.
Judi Gerber is a University of California Master Gardener with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She writes about sustainable farming, local foods, and organic gardening for multiple magazines. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.