Veterans Day, observed annually on November 11, honors all the military men and women who have served our country. There are many civic events to recognize their contribution, and many parishes will celebrate a special Mass on the nearest Sunday (November 12 this year) to express support for veterans and bless them for their service to our country.
For veterans who are continuing to serve our country in civilian life and their families, we are interested in supporting veterans who would like to pursue a vocation in farming or ranching.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 44 percent of military recruits come from rural areas even though rural residents account for less than 20 percent of the U.S. population. A career in agriculture makes sense to service members returning home to a rural community, but we’re also seeing a growing interest within urban areas for community food production.
How can veterans tap into these opportunities? How does one begin?
First, it is important to know that our country needs and wants a new generation of farmers to follow the large number of farmers who are preparing to retire. Some of these farms and ranches will stay in the family, but this transfer from one generation to the next is no longer prevalent as it once was. More common is farmland going into the hands of other farm owners looking to expand.
But if we want to keep as many family farms on the land as possible, then we need to encourage and support young farmers—including military members completing their service—to obtain the skills, capital and land to do so.
At the federal level, there are policies and programs in place to provide information and resources towards this goal. The USDA New Farmers—Veterans website is the place to start. The site provides links to get connected to training opportunities and career resources:
Military.com is another helpful web resource that displays benefits for veterans interested in becoming farmers or ranchers. As they say on their website: “Being a farmer means you’ll get the opportunity to be your own boss, an entrepreneur, equipment repair specialist, soil scientist, veterinarian, and land steward all rolled into one.”
This is a good place to mention a documentary titled Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields (click here to view trailer). CRL is not connected or associated with this documentary, however we welcome these kinds of efforts that reveal the positive pathways that farming and livestock production can provide to people. In this case, the film follows an ensemble of combat men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They share why they joined the military, how the war experienced changed them and what the daunting return to civilian life has been like.
Whether or not you purchase the DVD, the Ground Operations website provides regional links and downloadable resources for the benefit of veterans looking to get into farming or ranching.
Another helpful initiative, Farmer Veteran Coalition, with the motto “Mobilizing Veterans to Feed America,” strives to “cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders and develop viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities.”
In addition, the Beginning Farmers Training Program for Veterans website offers information on how to start a farm, planning a new farm, identifying funding resources and finding land to start a farm.
The Center for Rural Affairs based in Lyons, Nebraska has the Veteran Farmers Project that serves the region and offers individual consultations, a HelpLine and other resources.
Let us end with this Prayer for Veterans:
Help us, dear God, to see your face in every Veteran we encounter. Guide us as we imagine new ways to support Veterans and their families. Bring healing and peace to all who have been wounded physically, mentally and spiritually during wartime. Help us bring your saving grace to heal the invisible wounds of war. We ask this in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
—Robert Gronski is a Consultant for Catholic Rural Life. He tracks policy perspectives on food, farm, environmental, and rural community issues and helps frame these within the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching.