American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often find that employment prospects are scarce. But veterans who want to transition into careers as farmers are getting help from a growing number of projects around the country.
Michael O’Gorman, a successful organic farmer with 40 years’ experience, formed the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (FVC) to connect veterans to the resources they need to start their farming careers. Earlier this year the FVC established the Farmer-Veteran Fellowship Fund. The fund will provide individual grants of up to $10,000 for education, supplies and equipment.
Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots at the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture offers training to would-be veteran-farmers. And Archi’s Acres, a bio-hydroponic farm started by former Marine Colin Archipley and his wife Karen, is one of an increasing number of veteran-owned farms training aspiring veteran-farmers.
Military enlistment is greater in rural parts of the country where traditional jobs are in decline. At the same time, the average American farmer is nearing retirement age, and U.S. agriculture needs a new generation of farmers.
A study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found that soldiers from rural areas accounted for 27 percent of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with a national rural population of only 19 percent.
O’Gorman reflects that farming offers a personal transition away from combat. There is an “environmental peace,” he says, that comes from working outside with living things. Equally important, farming provides a mission to fulfill the needs of a community. Many of the farmer-veterans have found that their new careers heal the wounds of war in a way that no medication or counseling ever could—with new opportunities for life.
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