Veterans Find New Mission in Organic Farming


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Veterans Find New Mission in Organic Farming

  1. 1. Member Profiles and More!^Certified-i -Organi. M A G A Z I N E Veterans Find New Mission in Organic Farming $4.95 IN THIS ISSUE • Education and Promotion • Certification News • Policy and Advocacy
  2. 2. Veterans Find New Mission in Organic Farming By Janet McCarryT he United States has a long tradition of soldiers becom- ing farmers after returning from war. Starting in colonialtimes and continuing through ihe Spanish-American War, thegovernment rewarded returning veterans with public lands tostart farms. After WW1, the government supported farmingcommunities in six states where wounded veterans couldreceive agricultural training. This transition from soldier tofarmer continues today. Young soldiers returning from Iraqand Afghanistan, as well as older veterans who served duringpeacetime or the Vietnam War, are joining the ranks oforganic farmers who are transforming Americas agriculturalsyslem and they are transferring the skills and ingenuity theydeveloped in the military to create innovative solutions andsystems on their farms.Veterans returning from active service, like many peoplelooking for work during the economic recession, arestruggling to find jobs. Unemployment for male Iraq and Veteran1; Farm, FloridaAfghanistan war veterans rose to 15% in April 2010, signifi-cantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.7%. and two farmers are retiring for every one entering the field,Because more young adults enlisting in military service are the need for younger people to replace retiring farmers isfrom rural areas than from urban areas, communities in the greater than have been deeply impacted by war. A 2006 CarseyInstitute report found that although rural areas account for Michael OCorman, Executive Director of the Farmer Veteranonly 19% of the American population, they have suffered Coalition, was inspired to create the organization after read-27% of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Young ing the 2006 Carsey Report, which discussed the number ofveterans leaving the service and returning lo rural areas veterans coming from rural communities. Having worked in organic farming for 40 years, OGorman was well aware ofneed employment; however, those returning home to thesecommunities experience a relatively smaller pool of employ- the need to pass on the knowledge and experience of retiring farmers to the younger generations. Training young vets toment opportunities compared to those found in dense urban replace retiring farmers seemed like a win-win solution. Thecenters. Organic farming can provide thorn with jobs and,since the average age of farmers in the United States is 57 Farmer Veteran Coalitions mission is to find "employment, Farmer Veteran Coalition Hosts Memorial Day Farm Tour Event The Farmer Veteran Coalition sponsored a Vetei Farming Educational Retreat ovei for sixteen veterans and spouses or partners Interested in organic forming. The group visited three CCOF certified organic farms in and around Santa Cruz: the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz which runs a six month apprenticeship for begin- ning farmers; TLC Ranch run by Gulf
  3. 3. " training, and places to heal on Americas farms for return- blood pressure medicine for his PTSD and walk without a ing veterans." The organization sponsors veteran farming cane. After his positive experience farming in central Florida, career events and educational retreats; provides resources he decided to create a second farm outside of Jacksonville and support to veterans; and plans to create a fellowship to help other veterans. Although Jacksonville has the third program that will provide both financial support and mentor- largest population of veterans in the country, the nearest VA ing to new farmers. CCOF certified members TLC Ranch, hospital is located two Swanton Berry Farm, Shooting Star CSA, and the Center for hours away, so there is a The search for employment Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) have great demand for local is particularly difficult for organizations that provide veterans iv.ho suffered physi- support to veterans. cal and psychological injuries during their service. A 2.00& helping other disabled Rand Corporation report veterans benefit from found that 20% of military horticulture therapy. Veterans Farm grows its in ratsxd Afghanistan suffer signature "red, white and blueberries" in 30 gallon disorder (PTSD) or major pots on elevated beds so depression. Approximately that handicapped workers 19% experienced a poe^^le can easily reach them traumatic brain injury while without bending. Adam serving. Research has shown plans to purchase golf carts that horticultural therapy designed for handicapped helps patients recovering from players because disabled brain injuries and FTSD. farmers find them easier to Lily, Matt and dog Dingo at Shooting Star CSA maneuver in the field than wheelchairs. Adams decision to grow blueberries as a crop all worked with the coalition on a number of projects lhat is likewise motivated by his desire to help soldiers who are encourage veterans to learn about organic farming practices recovering from brain injuries; in addition to being a source and discover hands-on farming opportunities. OCorman of antioxidanfs, blueberries help improve balance, eye says that it has been "pretty incredible" to see how farm coordination, memory, and cognitive abilities. work has had a "profound impact" on some of the young Like Adarn, Marine veteran Colin Archipley found farm veterans with whom he has worked. He is amazed at how work to be therapeutic after he returned from his third the organizations work is "taking on so much more depth as deployment to Iraq. Colin and his wife Karen co-founded we go on." CCOF certified Archis Acres, an organic farm in Valley One of the veterans helped by Farmers Veteran Coalition is Center, California where they grow herbs, vegetables, and former Army Sergeant Adam Burke, founder and director of fruit using organic and bio-hydroponic methods. Feeling Veterans Farm. Adam, who grew up on a blueberry farm in that other veterans could benefit from working on a farm, Florida, joined the Army in 1995 when he was 17. He served he created the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training in Iraq from December 2002 until March 2004 when he suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit in the head with shrapnel during a mortar attack. Adarn was awarded the Purple Heart for his service and, after several months of rehab in the hospital, he was able to start working. However, he felt dissatisfied in his job and remembered the calming effect of spending time outdoors while growing up on a farm. Furthermore, he grew weary of having doctors prescribe multiple medications for his symptoms and was "looking for a prescription without medicine." He decided to return home to start a farm in Florida and directed all of his disability checks to the project. • Working on his organic blueberry farm brought about "amaz- Cory at Archis A ing change" in Adams recovery; he was able to stop taking CCOF Certified Or^nif Magazine—Sui
  4. 4. Fusaro, who joined the Navy at age 19 and served from 1998 to 2002, agrees that it is important for veterans to find meaningful work when they return from duty. She recently completed a graduate degree in the Environment and Community Program at Humboldt State University where she wrote her thesis about veterans becoming farmers. Jenns research showed that veterans consider farming to be "honor- able" work, grounded in the real world. She also found that working with supportive farmer mentors and other veteran farmers gives them a feeling of hope, and the collaboration between veterans and farmers provides an important channel for farmers to pass on their knowledge to a new generation. Veteran Matt McCue, who runs CCOF certified Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, California with his partner Lily Schneider, feels a strong sense of purpose working in organic farm- ing. He joined the army upon graduating from high school(VSATi program. The program, a collaborative effort with and served in Korea and Iraq. After he left the service,the San Diego Veterans Affairs Compensated Work Therapy/ he did agricultural work in Oregon and Hawaii, and thenVeterans Industry Clinic, trains veterans in organic farm- completed an apprenticeship at the Center for Agroecologying. (A Department of Veterans Affair video describing the and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Californiaprogram is posted on Archis Acres website.) The program is Santa Cruz. He subsequently enrolled in the Peace Corpunique, but Colin hopes that it will be replicated through- and traveled to Niger in West Africa to help farmers there.out the country. He stresses the need to integrate veterans When he returned to America, he managed a farm beforequickly back into civilian life with support from other veteran starting Shooting Star CSA. Matt believes that there is aco-workers to prevent them from becoming isolated and distinct contrast between war, which creates imbalance in aoverwhelmed. country by tipping its power structure, and organic farming, which creates balance on a farm by working with nature. InColin has found that veterans are well-suited to farm work addition to helping transform Americas agricultural systembecause, like military work, it is physically challenging, through his work on Shooting Star farm, Matt wants to spreaddemands self-discipline, and involves working a flexible organic farming methods to other parts of the world and isschedule. Perhaps more importantly, organic farming interested in collaborating with olhers in this area.provides veterans with a sense of mission and purpose. Heexplains that many veterans were motivated to enlist in themilitary because they wanted to serve their country andyearn to find meaningful work when they leave the military.Colin has found that the goal of using sustainable organicfarming methods to transform the countrys agricultural sys-tem resonates with veterans. They understand issues relatedto energy, water and food security, and the importance ofgrowing food that is healthy for people, the environment,and communities. Many feel that through farming, they cancontinue to "serve their country outside of a uniform."Michael OGorman also sees a great need to create trainingprograms. He explains that one of the greatest challengesfacing beginning farmers is lack of experience because manyfarms want to hire trained farmers. Although the Gl Bill willpay for soldiers to attend school, many veterans interested infarming would benefit more from on-the-job or vocationaltraining programs. As a result, the Farmer Veteran Coalitionis working to create programs with the government or privateindustry that will make it affordable for farmers to hire andtrain soldiers to become farmers. CCOF Cert -"ied
  5. 5. Veteran farmers admit that farming is difficult work and thatthe transition from military to civilian life is challenging.However, they are remarkably resilient and determined totransform the countrys agricultural system. The number ofopportunities and resources for prospective veteran farmers is growing due to the work of pioneering veteran farmers andthe Farmer Veteran Coalition; however, veterans will con-tinue to need the support of the organic farming community,including organic farms willing to hire, train and mentorveterans, as they embark on their new mission at home.Adam Burke compares recent veterans efforts to the workof World War I] veterans; just as these soldiers returnedfrom battle in Europe and Asia to build America into a greatcountry, he believes that veterans of the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan will also contribute in new ways to the countryafter their military service. Hungry Mother Organics, Carson City NV. Young veterans are not the only ones interested in the farming profession. Older veterans are also finding new opportunities in organic farming. MarkOFarrell served in the 82nd Airborne division of the Army from 1 977 Vcter. to 1980 and currently runs Hungry Mother Organics in Carson City, Nevada. Resources farm is leased from the /"arms and Organizations Featured In this Article: state at the Northern • Veterans Farm; Nevada Correctional; (352) 217-1662 • Archis Acres:; (760) 751-4380 • Shooting Star CSA:; (707) 207-0548 Army Medic and alsi • Hungry Mother Organics: Vietnam vets who h;; (775) 267-3084 and drug dependent • Farmer Veteran Coalition: Joshua Anderson grew up on a farm in Missouri, before; (530) 756-1395 serving as a medic in the Army Reserves in Japap" j^d the CCOF certified farms involved with the Farmer United States, He attended the CASFS fanr appren- Veteran Coalition: ticeship at DC Santa Cruz and worked as a Peace Corps • Swanton Berry Farm: agriculture volunteer in West Africa before joining Hungry; (831) 726-9618 Mother Organics. The farm has developed a partnership • TLC Ranch:; (831) 726-9618 with CCOF certified Whole Foods Market in Reno to help • CASFS:; (831) 459-3375 the store meet its goal of zero-waste. The farm picks up organic waste from Whole Foods, composts it, and then uses the compost to qrov,V(ws-s?ei.- ;.d garden About the Writer of our Main Feature Article stsT: rh-atans sold atthe store. Through this mutually Janet McGarry, a volunteer at CCOF, bsneficia -i?..?: ?•--•-a Hungry Mother and Whole Foods became interested in organic farming while are able to creates S.IEO& r.abte c-ossd loop system while gardening in an organic community garden in Massachusetts find U.iK in^ en ironmenlal giving veterans real farming and business experience for issues at the Yale .School of Forestry and the future. Environmental Studies. She is a teacher and writes about climate change as a Senior Fellow at Ihe Sierra Club. Comae I: ///put