This Veterans Day, Food Tank brings you 18 initiatives from around the United States that are working to help veterans transition to healthy, productive civilian lives through farming and agriculture.
By providing veterans with roadmaps to help them become integral players in the sustainable food system, these universities, NGOs, and companies work to help participants heal from wounds of all kinds. They work to educate veterans by providing job and skills training, connection to financial and technical resources, and assistance in the difficult task of acquiring land.
There are more than 20 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Services living domestically. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 percent of veterans in the U.S. have a service-related disability, or more than 4.4 million veterans.
Farming can positively impact the lives of veterans and survivors of conflict around the world. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in addition to producing healthy food, gardens also help people to engage in physical activity, build marketable skills, improve personal social well-being, and decrease domestic violence.
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.
1. Armed to Farm
Armed to Farm (ATF) is a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) that provides sustainable agriculture training for veterans. A combination of farm tours and classroom instruction, the program focuses on business planning, livestock production, and fruit and vegetable production. NCAT specialists work to 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.
2. Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots
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.
3. Delaware Valley University Organic Farming Program
The Delaware Valley University Organic Farming Program is a one-year certificate program offered 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. This program is open to all students but was created with military veterans in mind and has support from the school’s office of veteran and military affairs. Delaware Valley University 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).
4. Enhancing Veterans Farm Fellows Program
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.
5. Farmers Assisting Returning Military (FARM)
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, which cultivated fresh produce in community gardens. As they learned 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. They also run a three-phase training and technical assistance program to support veteran beginning farmers and ranchers in partnership with Texas A&M University, called The Battleground to Breaking Ground Entrepreneurial Training Project.
6. Growing Careers in Agriculture
Growing Careers in Agriculture, a program of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (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.
7. Growing Warriors Project
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. The project’s founder, Michael Lewis, promotes sustainable farming as a literal form of nation building for which returning veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces are well-suited. Since 2012, the program has helped more than 65 veteran families grow tens of thousands of pounds of organic food.
8. Heroic Food
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 is designed to qualify trainees for farm crew leadership and assistant manager positions upon completion, 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.
9. Hope Farms
Hope Farms is a Houston-area farmer training program run by Recipe for Success that prioritizes the selection of U.S. 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, 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.
10. Semper Fresh Farms
Semper Fresh Farms is a local networking and vocational 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 skillsets. 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.
11. Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education (SAVE)
Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education (SAVE) is the newest member of this list and, though they have already started leading workshops, has plans to build a teaching farm and healing center on more than 100 acres in Kansas. 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.
12. Veterans Agricultural Center of Connecticut (VACC)
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 and a goal of preparing veterans to start home-based farms or businesses. Participants will be employable by the end of the program for greenhouse operations, cooperatives, farm management, produce delivery, or sales.
13. Veteran Farmers of America (VFA)
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.
14. Veteran Farmer Program
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.
15. Veteran Farmers Project
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 agriculture 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.
16. Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) Program
Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) Program trains transitioning service men and women in all aspects of agriculture and food production, including hydroponics, environmental control, and greenhouse management during a six to twelve-week intensive course. The program is a partnership between California State Polytechnic University and Archi’s Acres, a veteran-owned farm. Veterans in the program learn about topics including hydroponics, greenhouse management, composting systems, and soil biology. The program has had more than 300 graduates since 2009.
17. Veterans to Farmers (VTF)
Veterans to Farmers (VTF) strives to bring family farming back to the forefront of the American landscape. VTF was founded by U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams in 2011 after overwhelming veteran interest in his organic greenhouse employment program for veterans. Upon completion of their 12-week educational program, VTF provides employment support to participating veterans. VTF’s 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.
18. Vets to Ag
Vets to Ag is a program at Michigan State University that trains homeless U.S. veterans to work in agriculture. Participants are trained in 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.