Military Veterans Learn to Farm with Farmer-Veteran Coalition
By Evan B. Welch | Jun 8, 2011
An innovative, relatively young program provides active-duty soldiers and military veterans a jump start into civilian existence while bringing life to agriculture.
One-sixth of the U.S. population is enlisted in the military, and 45 percent of that number is from rural farm communities, according to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Farms need more hands, and veterans need work after service. So Michael O’Gorman founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, based in Davis, California, to plow the hindrances and help reintegrate service men and women on a national scale.
O’Gorman, a seasoned organic farmer, watched the problem develop just in his lifetime. There was a “major shrinking of the amount of people involved in farming, and more and more dependence on immigrant labor to do our farm work, and I just kind of put two and two together. It was kind of like the lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought, ‘What if we got together with some of my farmer friends and helped create jobs on farms?'” After speaking with other farmers and colleagues, O’Gorman found again and again that others would be onboard. His vision took shape with the focus on a sustainable farm principle, fitting with the military mindset concerned with national defense and security.
The program and its network of farms are open to both veterans and active-duty soldiers. They teach service men and women with little or no background in farming, as well as those who grew up in rural areas, how to run a business on their own.
Buck Adams is one of those security-minded folks. His farming practices utilize scarce Colorado resources in practical ways, and he hopes to go local using greenhouse and hydroponic technology. He sees each state as a small country, and each country he feels should be able to sustain itself.
A career in agriculture is accessible for those looking into the greenhouse model, he says. “You don’t have to have millions of acres of land to be able to produce a decent living, you can have a half-acre and create a decent small business for a single family that can run it and operate it and feel good about it.”
Former military men and women returning from overseas combat tours often face another kind of war at home: Reintegrating into civilian life can be challenging. Adams, who is an ex-Marine and a member of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, points out that even though veterans tend to be strong leaders, getting into the corporate world without a business background is a daunting task. Post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and psychological trauma, among other things, challenge veterans.
“What we think is special about our project is that as an agricultural community, and rural America in general, we need these people as much as they need us, and ultimately, being needed is a major part of the healing,” says O’Gorman.
O’Gorman, whose son was in the military, knows the benefits that farmwork can provide the body and mind. “There definitely are some exciting studies that (show) horticulture, getting outside, working with plants, definitely has some healing effects on the cognitive and all the areas of brain function (and) recovering from brain damage,” he says.
Buck Adams also has seen results in mental rehabilitation. Giving veterans a rewarding task in a wholesome workspace has proven effective. He’s seen the proof at his hydroponic farm in Greeley, Colorado.
“You’re working in a controlled environment all year-round,” Adams says. “You’re working in a highly oxygenated, rich environment because of the plants. You’re taking care of another life-form, so there’s a sense of responsibility and satisfaction that comes from that. And then also the satisfaction that you’re providing a high-quality product for the consumer versus something that we shipped in (using) gas before it was ripe. So, there’s a lot that goes into that.”
The vets already have the discipline, determination and physical attributes necessary for running a farm. O’Gorman says he just channeled the idealism and the sense of sacrifice and service that they went into the military with, and gave them a new place to put that.
“(We’re) giving them a new mission really, and that’s been the real exciting part of it,” he says.
Veterans are much the same as they have been in years past. “We like to think that our country is doing a better job this time around than it did in some of the previous wars about taking care of the veterans when they come home,” O’Gorman says.
Many of them return, however, with an uncertain future, and thanks to the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, those with interest in agriculture can find a starting place. Whether they need a structured outlet outdoors, a job, or both, a helping hand isn’t far away.
So what can you do? “We need experienced farmers to contact us and offer to help and advise them,” O’Gorman says. “We need my generation of farmers to welcome them with open arms and pass the torch to them.”
Considering what they’ve given up to protect U.S. soil, it seems fitting that the nation’s older farmers now can reach out and teach former military personnel how to make a living working that soil.
To contact the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, visit the website at www.FarmVetCo.org, call 530-756-1395, or write Farmer-Veteran Coalition, 508 Second St., Suite 206, Davis, CA 95616.
To contact Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, visit the website at www.ArchisAcres.com.
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