Organic Farming Program Provides Jobs for Veterans

Among certification programs, Delaware Valley College and Rodale Institute offer organic farming as a way for U.S. vets to find jobs for veterans.

| May/June 2015

  • The farm at the Rodale Institute is the hub of the activity surrounding the Organic Farming Program.
    Photo courtesy Delaware Valley College/Allure West Studios/Natalie Wi
  • Mickey S., an Army veteran, works on a water tank during the Summer Practicum at Rodale Institute.
    Photo courtesy Delaware Valley College/Allure West Studios/Natalie Wi
  • From left, Kyle Maio, Mike Walker and Mickey S. spend time in classes at Delaware Valley College and participate in the Summer Practicum at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
    Photo courtesy Delaware Valley College/Allure West Studios/Natalie Wi
  • Mike Walker, an Army veteran from the Vietnam era, delivers rainwater to a bed of outdoor plants.
    Photo courtesy Delaware Valley College/Allure West Studios/Natalie Wi

The tattoos give them away ... what division they were in, dates of service, unit patches or awards, a particular military operation, the passing of a comrade in arms. You see their tattooed arms at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, turning compost with a pitchfork, operating a lever on a tractor, or throwing a bucket of grain to the hogs. These U.S. veterans are enrolled in a relatively new program in Pennsylvania designed just for them.

American farmers are at a crossroads. More than 100,000 midsize farms have shut down over the past decade, often squeezed out by larger farms. Small-scale farmers are part of a dying breed, but the reality is that we need food and we need farms. And for a multitude of reasons, we need to truck our food fewer miles.

The numbers of service women and men coming home from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone those from the Vietnam era still searching for a vocation, could help fill this need. At least that’s what officials with Rodale Institute and Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, believe. In 2013, Rodale and DelVal partnered to offer a 36-credit, one-year organic farming certification program targeting veterans.

Mike Walker, a Vietnam veteran enrolled in the 2013 program, says, “I was in school, working for the government, was on the street. But I am in this program because I love growing food. One of my fondest memories from my youth is growing tomatoes with my mother.”

Walker suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and because of it, reading and writing come slowly. “The information is in my head, but it can’t come out.”

Much of the veterans’ “class” time is spent outdoors. Three days a week, they are in the field, doing hands-on work. During the last five weeks of the program, they focus their efforts to specialize in a particular field of study.

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