There is a slow-moving crisis in agriculture. The United States needs 700,000 new farmers to take up the plough over the next 20 years to replace the farmers aging out of the profession. In the last two years, America has produced just about 1,200 new farmers.
At the same time, the U.S. military created more than 200,000 new military veterans every year. And if there is one thing that’s true, it’s this: they are about the only Americans tough enough to be farmers. Because let’s face it – a tough day farming can’t be too much worse than a hard day at boot camp.
So last year, on land that George Washington once cultivated, we trained 12 military veterans in the art, science and business of farming. They learned a lot, but they taught us more – about discipline and grit, teamwork and esprit de corps. We emerged smarter, tougher, and better.
And now we have the pleasure of introducing you to 2017 training class of veterans. They are 19-strong, from all four services, half men and half women, with 23 combat deployments between them – 17 in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are helicopter pilots and explosives experts; logisticians and computer experts; mechanics, infantry and intelligence experts. Active duty, Reserve, and retired, and one just returned from Afghanistan this month – they are all seeking a new life cultivating the land they joined the military to protect and served. (One Navy civilian has joined us for the training too for a total of 20 trainees).
But first we want to thank the generous sponsors who making this training program possible: The Grace Communications Foundation, Boeing, Prince Charitable Trusts, Northrop Grumman, ClearedJobs.net, Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and BAE Systems.
It is now my pleasure to introduce you to the 2017 Arcadia Veteran Reserve. We will have the honor of working with them every month during their 12 training weekends in 2017.
Alvin, USMC: “I hope to become an innovator in the farming industry by blending time tested techniques with modern technology. I want to grow a variety of vegetables and hopefully have some type of livestock. If there is anything I've gained while in the Marine Corps it’s (will power), I now know I have the mental and physical perseverance to handle any mission.”
Yash, US Army: “To work in nature, work with hands, save the planet, eat healthy. (Military service serves me with) discipline and working with hands.”
Marcus, US Army: “I want to start several working farms and several community gardens. The community gardens will consist of edible produce, while the working farms will consist of edible produce, egg production, ornamental plants, houseplants, shrubbery, etc. I have already started working with several community organizations in New Orleans to start gardens and have initiated conversation with a co-op in North Carolina with plans to do the same. “
Lindsey, US Army: “Growing food in an environmentally responsible way is something I would love to learn more about. I would like to be able to use farming as a way to give back to the community and to help support my family. My military experience gave me the ability to work well under pressure and to do my job efficiently while paying attention to detail.”
Antoinette, US Army: The Mission Continues Fellow: “I would not only like to be able to provide a healthy, sustainable life for my family but also to help others, especially those living in ‘food deserts,’ to have the ability to provide for their families. My ‘retirement goal’ has been to open a residential treatment farm for at-risk youth (I was able to begin a business plan while in school) where I can provide a safe and productive environment to children to grow and learn a practical vocation.”
Joel, US Navy: “I'd like to have a small farm where I grow my own food (vegetables, berries, fruits, and herbs) and raise some livestock for my wife and I while also producing extra to either give to friends/family/charities or sell at a food stand or farmers market…I've read a large number of articles and news stories, and watched different documentaries that talk about the importance of farmers and I understand how important a healthy food supply is to the country. I want to be able to teach my grandchildren about farming and growing their own food.”
Joe, US Army: “I have always admired farmers since growing up in the Midwest, KC Missouri. I like the independence involved, and the honorable service they provide. I help a friend who grows corn, winter wheat, and soy beans. I'd like to get enough land to grow these crops, but also get into growing hops for resale in Virginia. Hard work, self-drive, mission accomplishment. I love the idea that I could work for myself, driven by my goals.”
Tyree, US Army: “I would like to own a farm, grow organic foods. I would like to provide jobs and give back to the local community. (Military service taught me) dedication and commitment to completing task. No matter how hard they may be.”
Matthew, US Army: “I have a great family history of military members within in my ancestry but a true theme that reoccurs after our service is that my family have become farmers in different sizes from large cattle and tobacco farmers to personal gardens that provide for the family. Many of those farms are self-sustaining homesteads. I am hoping to have a 50-acre farm with horses, bees, and possibly some cattle looking to provide a peace in my heart that makes me a productive member of my community.”
Amanda, US Army: “The last several years I have kept a vegetable garden and started beekeeping this past year. I love having my hands in the soil and seeing the progress of something that started as a seed growing into something I can eat. I really enjoy beekeeping and learning about the bees and from the bees. I have always liked being outside and learning about nature. The last several years I have spent in an office environment and have realized that this type of work is not for me. I like feeling like I am contributing to something larger than myself and keeping honey bees and growing vegetables provides more satisfaction than generating endless reports that someone may or may not read.
I'd eventually like to own my own small-scale farm, with chickens, honeybees, vegetables, and possibly goats, but before I take that plunge, I need to learn how to farm. My military service has given me a better understanding of what it means to be loyal and dedicated. Knowing how to complete a mission and having people (or plants and animals) depend on you for success gives me the drive to keep going.”
Lori, Army National Guard: “My husband and I are both veterans. We deployed back to back to Afghanistan. He is set for another deployment soon. We are currently looking at a property in Maine that is suitable for maple syrup production, mushroom farming (albeit a short season), and some flock/livestock. If we decide to go with that particular property, we would most likely do small ruminants and/or turkeys. We would also like to have at least one greenhouse for our own food production.”
Patrick, US Army: “My grandfather was a farmer, though I didn’t pursue this path early in my life. While deployed to Afghanistan, a good friend passed away. He was a farmer from Alabama. He loved to farm and all that accompanied farming. He encouraged me to start small. He assured me that I would love it. I believe raising cattle, caring for a farm is therapeutic. Although my military career consisted of many administrative duties, I have always loved field exercises, being in the outdoors and physical activities especially team building exercises. I enjoy the sense of camaraderie and the process of nurturing and completing a goal. I also have a love of animals. My daughter and I started a small garden in backyard. We grow peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. We love cooking together all the food from our garden.”
Nicole, US Navy: “I am …very much into exercise and healthy eating which is fueling my passion to create an accessibility to organically grown foods. I would like to open up an urban farm and start a food co-op for disadvantaged communities.”
Shawn, US Army: “I would like to learn to farm/ranch in order to provide a Haven for other struggling Veterans where they can take refuge and receive therapy. As I am currently studying Therapeutic Recreation I have become very aware of the healing properties attributed to horticulture and other agricultural associated therapies. With the veteran initiatives put forth in the Farm Bill of 2014, I think that a community of farming veterans could be feasible. These communities or co-op could not only provide for themselves but also has the potential to provide for the community on a much larger scale. These visions cannot happen without adequate training in the trade of farming.”
Jon, US Army: “I plan to retire in Summer 2018 and return Central Kentucky. I envision buying small farm and initially working it part time. I have not settled on any particular type of farm yet... I hope to use the Veteran Reserve program to educate myself prior to retirement. I view farming as an entrepreneurial endeavor... which requires hard work, discipline, planning, organization and risk mitigation. I honed all those skills in the military and believe I can successfully apply them to farming.”
Katie, US Navy: “I feel sustainable agriculture is a must in order to pass down a promising future for the next generation. Farming is a form of land stewardship that can work towards that end for our families and our local community. Local food is important to education, I'd like to grow and/or raise as much food for my family and local community as possible. I'm interested in all facets of agriculture but have the most experience with produce.”
Brittany, USMC: “My long-term dream is settle onto a farm or vineyard where I can implement sustainable farming practices. My family on both sides farmed to sustain themselves with food and financial resources. They had a lot of pride in their work and land. I think my military service will give me the leadership skills and discipline it takes to maintain a farm. I think my unique experiences in research will allow me to grow a farm in new ways, and maintain the flexibility need for growth.”
Debra, US Army: “My grandmother came to this county from the Bahama Islands in the 1920's. She taught me the importance of growing our own food in our yard. It is my heart's desire to own a small farm, where I and others can garden and enjoy the Organic fruits, veggies, herbs & spices at the Farm Café. There would also be an area with natural soaps/creams, space to provide psychoeducational groups and other therapeutic services to women & teenage girls who are struggling with Women's Issues and want to connect with Mother Nature.”
Tanya, US Army: “I would like to live and work on a farm. I would like to learn about planting sustainable foods and plants.”
Faye, USAF: “I am building a home in Suffolk, VA on (7 acres) with plans of growing many of my own vegetables and herbs. I would also like to help other urban farmers who are currently growing on a small scale and having issues. My husband and I have thought about a little truck stand to bring locally grown products to Hampton Roads areas that have minimal access to fresh products.”
Arleya, US Navy civilian: “The community I grew up in had very little access to fresh foods. Unfortunately, years and years later, it's still that way today. And frankly, it's a health crisis. I'd like to be a solution to that. I want to produce and provide fresh foods for that community, and also teach members of the community about nutrition and how to grow their own small gardens. I've been looking at land that comes available, but I need more knowledge and a better plan to execute the idea. I want to do something on a large scale. While my experience is in the typical vegetables and herbs, I'm also interested in growing hops and participating in the growing craft brewing industry.”