More Veterans Set to Go From Protecting America to Feeding America
For 200,000 U.S. service members transitioning out of the military each year, returning to civilian life will mean trading in their combat boots for a tractor and rubber galoshes, thanks to new farming-focused job-training programs created by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Last week, the USDA and the Department of Defense announced that agriculture will be one of the industries in which the government will provide career assistance and counseling programs to service members finishing their term of enlistment.
The program will give veterans the opportunity to gain farming skills through classroom instruction and registered apprenticeships from experienced farmers. In addition to educational opportunities, the USDA will offer financial assistance to beginning farmers or ranchers who lack the funds to purchase necessary farming equipment, land, livestock, and other resources. Returning service members are also eligible for housing support programs, which can range from repair loans to emergency placement assistance.
"This expanded collaboration between USDA and DOD will help to ensure that returning Service members know that there are a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance for veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture, no matter their experience level,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden in a press release.
The plan could benefit both veterans and the agriculture industry, which is dominated by a workforce that is aging and shrinking.
For those who were deployed in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, agriculture not only provides work but can be therapeutic too. Farming allows service members to perform purposeful work that provides food for the nation while working in a tranquil environment. With 5 million veterans living in rural areas, the program hopes to expand the rate of agricultural production to meet the needs of the country’s growing population.
The new program will build on federal efforts made to financially support vets who want to work in agriculture. Since 2009, the USDA has helped more than 6,482 veterans acquire farmland and farming equipment and maintain their operations by providing a total of $438 million in farm loans. Additionally, the USDA microloan program has provided more than $22 million to more than 1,000 veteran farmers.