Tucked away in the countryside of Jacksonville, Fla., is a place that offers hope and opportunity for returning veterans. Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land, opened its doors in 2009. Its founder, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is utilizing his skills to create a unique environment where veterans can develop agriculture skills that can help them become effective farmers or ranchers. USDA is partnering with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly workshops to connect these veterans to key departmental resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers.
I recently attended one of these workshops to introduce our veterans to my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). In particular, I talked about opportunities to strengthen the local food sector via AMS’ Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (which includes the Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program) as well as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. I also talked about our recent partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to begin a series of grant-writing workshops to help potential grant applicants write successful grant applications.
Our goal is for Veterans Farm to add USDA resources to its already impressive list of offerings for the veteran community. Currently, the organization provides training workshops in land acquisition, planning, resource management, mentoring, case management, agro-business, and a fellowship program. Burke hopes to help veterans create solid agricultural businesses that will thrive by expanding their markets thus allowing returning veterans to integrate honorably and effectively into local communities. The effective approaches used by Veterans Farm earned recognition from the White House. In 2012, Burke received the Presidential Citizens Medal – recognized as the second highest civilian award of our government.
The partnership with Veterans Farm is one of the many ways USDA supports Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to creating new opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. The department recently named Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Karis Gutter as the first-ever Military Veterans Agricultural (MVA) Liaison. In this position, Gutter, a Marine Corps Reserve veteran, will coordinate resources to support active duty military and veterans interested in agriculture. Under the New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program, USDA highlights the financial assistance, industry education, and other guidance needed to help overcome potential barriers to entering the industry.
AMS and USDA works hard to help our veterans successfully transition into civilian careers. Our agency is proud that veterans make up 8.5% of our workforce. To date, the agency hired 16 veterans in 2015. Through our partnership with Veterans Farm, we look to improve these numbers and increase our standing within the veteran community. And we hope to see an increase in the number of veterans choosing to become farmers and ranchers!
We strongly encourage our veterans to check out our opportunities page to see the many other ways that USDA is paving the way for our nation’s heroes to join the ranks of a new unit – the ag team.