Veteran’s Day is our yearly opportunity to thank all those who have served in our armed forces.
OAN members have proudly served our country, and those in my family have done so as well. Originally known as Armistice Day, it is a day dedicated to honoring those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …”
Veterans to farming
Recently, the OAN leadership participated in a meeting of the western region nursery associations. I had a chance to chat with one of Colorado’s nursery industry leaders, Mike Bone, curator of the Steppe Collection at the Denver Botanical Gardens.
From him, I learned about the Veterans to Farming program, which pairs skilled veterans with the vocation of farming. The program provides them with a straightforward curriculum and community of support, which becomes their avenue to recover, learn, and move forward by becoming providers. In return, these veterans help agriculture replace those who are aging out of the industry.
It makes sense to me — from all sides.
The Veterans to Farmers program in Colorado has grown into success. More than 400 veterans have applied to the program and more than 100 have graduated. As students, they grow 10,000 pounds of food each year before going out into the community to use what they’ve learned. All of this is of tangible benefit to the community.
Most veterans who come home after deployment assimilate easily with their families and communities. Many, however, struggle to re-assimilate once they no longer have the regimented and structured discipline of the military. Making matters worse, some suffer from physical injuries and mental health issues. Because of these factors, many have trouble navigating through the system of benefits and resources that are available to them when they return to civilian life.
Farming can allow these veterans to turn the page and make a natural transition. It makes use of many of the same skills learned in the military, including hard work, attention to detail, and a selfless commitment to serving others. It has also been proven to provide therapeutic benefits for many types of trauma, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.
VTF provides veterans with what the organization calls an opportunity for a “second service.” It lets them reach out and actively support their veteran family. Program graduates are strongly encouraged to teach, support, and lend a hand to fellow veterans.
Federal programs for veterans
This Colorado nonprofit isn’t the only helping hand awaiting our veterans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has committed resources and programs to ensure that veterans looking to return home, or start a new career on a farm or in a rural community, have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed.
In 2018, USDA’s Farm Service Agency provided $64.5 million in direct and guaranteed farm operating loans to veterans. This funding provides certain preferences under most USDA farm credit and farmland conservation programs. They are eligible for increased cost share assistance, additional financial incentives, and funding preferences for engaging in conservation efforts
The skills honed through military service pair naturally with the characteristics of a successful agricultural professional. USDA’s Rural Development has more than 40 loan, grant, and technical assistance programs, including support to help veterans purchase and develop land and facilities, purchase equipment and supplies, refinance for job expansion, and finance for energy efficiency improvements.
Oregon has joined the effort
In Oregon, many people are also helping our vets. The risk of highlighting services and programs here is that I may omit some of the great work the community is providing to our veterans. I apologize in advance.
My friend and colleague Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, has created a partnership with the national nonprofit Farmer Veteran Coalition’s growing effort to support military veterans transitioning to a career in organic agriculture. Oregon Tilth exempts any veteran-owned farm from paying base certification fees. The fee waiver is granted to new applicants and renewing certified farmers that can demonstrate military service.
Oregon State University Extension Service taps federal funding from the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program), to create a Small Farms team to launch the veteran-focused Growing Agripreneurs program at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, Oregon. Pilot program training is expanded by the partnership with Rogue Farm Corps and the Josephine County Veterans Service Office. These partnerships will enhance the statewide effort to provide resources to veteran farmers.
A sincere thanks to our veterans
There are over 21.8 million veterans in the United States. Our freedoms are due to the commitment and service to country our men and women in uniform provide every day. Programs like the Veterans to Farmers in Colorado and elsewhere can serve as a national model to integrate two communities that mean so much to our country — our veterans and our farmers. Thank you to all who have served.