For many military veterans and their families, the transition from the military to civilian life is a complex undertaking; however, reports and personal accounts indicate that many military veterans have discovered that farming offers a place for employment, training and healing. The problem is there are few educational programs tailored to meet the particular needs and abilities of returning veterans.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) makes it possible to fill that gap in training. At the University of Arkansas, Dr. Dan Donoghue used BFRDP funds to develop internships, workshops and online courses that focus on the needs of veterans interested in pursuing farming after their service to our country.
The workshops, hosted in collaboration with the Farmer-Veteran Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, give veterans and their families basic and practical on-farm skills for poultry and livestock production, as well as networking opportunities for veterans from all around the country.
Army veteran Terrell Spencer serves as the veteran mentor on the project. After returning from Iraq, he and his wife now produce egg and meat chickens, heritage turkeys, goats, vegetables and firewood on their farm in West Fork, Ark.
The Spencer farm is one of the stops on the “Armed to Farm” Workshop where the focus is on sustainable pastured poultry production. Veterans and their families see firsthand the challenges of starting a working farm and the benefits – both psychological and physical – of farming. All the participants got hands-on experience building a movable hoophouse for pastured chickens, as well as setting and managing feeding and watering systems and electrical fences.
As a result, several veterans are initiating plans to farm, expanding existing farms by leasing additional property, comparing production and marketing strategies, and learning about local food systems. They also learned about funding opportunities specifically for returning military personnel through the Veteran Farm Coalition. But, most importantly, it created an environment to talk about their hopes for their future and create a support network.
On August 30, 2012, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Fiscal Year 2012 BFRDP awards to organizations across 24 states that will help all beginning farmers and ranchers with the training and resources needed to run productive, sustainable farms. BFRDP, established through the 2008 Farm Bill, has awarded $75 million in grants since its inception in Fiscal Year 2009. In 2011, BFRDP grants supported training for more than 38,000 people in 46 states.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and Extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future.