Farmer Veteran Coalition


Rural communities are experiencing a disproportionate amount of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a study released in 2006 by the Carsey Institute, a think tank at the University of New Hampshire. “The mortality rate for soldiers from rural America is about 60 percent higher than the mortality rate for soldiers from metropolitan areas,” said the Institute’s William O’Hare. According to the study, “The elevated rural death rate reflects a higher enlistment rate among young adults in rural America, where private sector jobs are often scarce. Only 24 percent of employed young adults, ages 18 to 24, hold full-time jobs in rural communities. Traditional rural employment in farming, logging, mining, fishing and small manufacturing have been declining for many years. “

Paul Reickoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America, said in 2007 that veterans returning to rural communities were having the hardest time as these communities lacked both viable employment opportunities and access to needed veteran services.

Yochi J. Dreazon reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 25, 2008 on a new government report that “paints a dire picture of the employment prospects of returning military veterans, concluding that young veterans earn less and have a harder time finding work than do civilians in the same age group.”

The report prepared for the Veterans Affairs Department before the current downturn in the economy “found that the percentage of veterans not in the labor force — because they couldn’t find jobs, stopped looking for work, or went back to school — jumped to 23{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e} in 2005 from 10{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e} in 2000. Half of the young veterans — ages 20 to 24 — with steady employment earned less than $25,000 per year,” Dreazon reported the findings said.

According to the Office of Actuary, Office of Policy and Planning of the Department of Veterans Affairs by the end of 2008 there will be approximately 2 million young veterans with Post 9/30/2001 service. That means that as many as 500,000 of these veterans may be unemployed and another large number working in jobs that do not adequately provide for their families.

At the same time America’s farms are facing a crisis for lack of young people going into agriculture. Most statistics point to the average American farmer being between 55 and 58 years old with two farmers retiring for every one entering the field.

According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics 2006 report, there are roughly 1.3 million working farmers in the United States. Eighty per cent, according to the same study, are full or part-time farmers and ranchers, and the remainder are hired as farm managers. While this study projects a continued decline in both the amount of farmers and farms, it projects a steady increase in farm management jobs.

This report does not take into account, however, a growing phenomena of consumers interested in supporting small farms where diverse and often organic produce and food products are grown closer to where the consumers are. This movement has catapulted in the last year as concern over global warming, the distance food travels, the price of fuel and the reduced availability of immigrant labor have all grown tremendously. It is fair to say that no one yet has a fair estimate of the amount of new employment in this emerging sector of farming, but if it is to succeed, it will require, for the first time in our nation’s history, an actual increase in the amount of full time people farming in the United States.

The Farmer-Veteran Coalition would like as its goal to reach .5{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e} of all veterans with post 9/30/2001 service, and either introduce them to the range of opportunities in our industry, or help support and advance them if they have already chosen our field. That is 10,000 current veterans and will go to 15,000 over the next 3 to 5 years.

Careers in our field would be traditional family farms, farm management jobs, specialized skills on existing farms (agronomy, veterinary, quality control, mechanics, equipment operation, distribution, sales, etc.), specialized areas of agriculture (horticulture, viticulture, apiculture), food processing and retail food handling and sales.

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Vocational Assistance:

The primary focus of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition will be on creating viable vocational opportunity for returning veterans in our agricultural field. Our project will be modeled somewhat after Helmets to Hardhats, a collaboration of the building trades. Veterans would be reached through the press, our websites, links to other websites, and by attending job fairs that are organized for veterans both prior to and immediately after their release form military service.

Our work would be achieved through the following projects:

•We will create a clearinghouse for job opportunities on farms and farm-related fields, and work with individual veterans to find those jobs that fit their specific interests. We would begin by accessing and linking to existing sites such as Veteran Job Search at, and BlueSky Search. We would solicit farms and food companies to send us job opportunities to list.

•We will build a network of agricultural education and farm training programs that will open doors to veterans, help veterans apply for these programs and, when appropriate, work to provide financial assistance to the veterans. The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California Santa Cruz and the Agricultural Land Based Training Association (ALBA) in Salinas have already begun working with us on this project. Nationally this network will include traditional two and four year colleges as well as vocational programs like the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. The farmer-Veteran Coalition will help veterans find the money needed to attend these schools through government loans and grants, private scholarships and scholarships raised directly for our program.

•We will connect veterans who grew up with farming experience or attend and complete farm training programs, and wish to go into farming, with both the land and financing needed for starting farms of their own. California Farm Link has successfully been working on this program. Similar land link organizations exist in 38 states. The Center for Rural Affairs, based in Nebraska, has a well developed program to work with beginning farmers that we could hook into. The Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Advisory Committee of the USDA will be another invaluable resource.

•We will connect veterans who prefer living and working in urban environments with the growing job opportunities there that include plant nurseries, urban garden projects, produce distributors and other related fields.

•We will provide a network of experienced farmers and food industry professionals to help mentor the veterans entering into our fields of work. This will be a key aspect to the success of the program. The National Family Farm Coalition will be considering proposals at there upcoming annual convention that the Farmer-Veteran Coalition helped develop for creating a mentorship program for young farmers, including veterans that go through our program.

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Non-traditional assistance:

Men and women returning from war are in need of support beyond the material requirements of work and school. According to the Office of Policy and Planning national Center for Veterans Analyses and Statistics (OO8A3), there were 308,402 veterans being compensated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as of December 31, 2007. By all estimates that number is a small fraction of the total cases as traditionally, the large majority of PTSD victims do not seek help, and of those that do, not all receive the help they need. The same study listed 318,801 veterans rated as 100{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e} disabled.

A recent study titled “Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences and Services to Assist Recovery”, done by the California Community Foundation for the RAND Institute found that some ”300,000 U.S. troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 received brain injuries.”

It is the belief of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition that our farms can play a unique role in offering healthy places for those physically, mentally and emotionally injured from their war experience.

Some of these approaches will include:

•Finding appropriate agricultural-related placements for veterans who may be dealing with drug, alcohol or other behavioral problems that may make traditional employment difficult. The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz is one such project working to assist people with these needs.

•Finding appropriate agricultural opportunities and placements where veterans that have suffered physical or brain injury can receive the special vocational rehabilitation that they may need.

•Supporting projects such as Veterans Village, Operation Recovery, and Veteran Victory Farm that work to integrate housing and farming with emotional and spiritual guidance for veterans.

•Working with the existing network of veteran and veteran advocacy groups to ensure that all those entering our programs will receive full access to health, mental health, housing and all other available services.


To see some of the Farmer-Veteran stories click HERE.

If you are a veteran or farmer interested in obtaining more information on any aspect of the Farmer Veteran Coalition mission or in obtaining assistance in the agricultural industry, contact our National Veteran Outreach Coordinator: Chris Ritthaler at

If you are a company that would like to support our mission through funding, training, or job placement for a veteran, contact our National Veteran Outreach Coordinator: Chris Ritthaler at .

Posted by John Walton



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