In 2017, 351,647 men and 18,972 women claimed the title of U.S. Veteran while serving their country as producers of agricultural products ranging from corn and beans to livestock and hay. Of this number, 7,996 held the position of herd manager for the farms and 264,240 lived on the farms they operated (source: 2017 census of agriculture).
It’s impressive! The benefits can be both economical and therapeutic for veterinarians, especially since many of them suffer from PTSD. I know I love the peace and solitude of working in the garden, and I would say it’s similar. Farming creates a routine that can be heartwarming for many. I know that working with cattle is another very beneficial thing in helping to heal.
There are several non-profit organizations dedicated to helping seasoned farmers get started. One is the Veterans Agricultural Initiative. Another is the National AgrAbility Project. They, and others like them, are on a mission to help veterans who want to become farmers and livestock owners, get to where they want to be.
Another veteran farmer program is the Farmer Veteran Coalition, whose mission is to “Mobilize Veterans to Feed America”. It is the largest non-profit organization in the country that helps veterinarians. Veterinarians from all walks of life are represented in this organization. Many have developed direct selling products, such as a Wisconsin vet who has a wonderful business in peppers and the seasonings he has created from them. There are so many stories on their website and their Facebook page. I encourage you to research some of these nonprofits and read their resources, if you are a vet or have a vet in your family who is interested in farming life.
The average age of American farmers is 58, and they are leaving the land in large numbers. Conventional farming is not profitable for the most part. The costs are skyrocketing and the benefits are hard earned. Those who stay, or start, understand the essential nature of regenerative agriculture and do things the way nature intended. With the loss of food producers, the USDA launched an initiative to encourage veterans to “come into the barn, the garden, the field” and learn how to feed America.
“In my opinion, there is no other group of people who are used to working hard, getting up sooner or later, and focused on their mission than our veterans,” said Bill Ashton, a liaison officer. USDA Veteran Farmer. “Veterans are extremely resilient. It is a company with many aspects; it’s hard work in the field, and that’s why they’re well suited for farming.
I agree with him so much! One of the biggest losses in our country, in my opinion, is the ability to work! I mean physically sweating, having blisters, having sore arms, and being “exhausted” at the end of the day. How did we come to a society that thinks that everything comes by magic and on demand? Somehow we dropped the ball. I was a farm girl and we were expected to do household chores. I experienced everything I said above, and more. I’ve always loved hard chores and the satisfaction at the end of the day knowing that I did well.
Like so many children on the farm, this work ethic is one of the best things I have ever received. And yet I look around, I speak to the young people, I listen to their answers, and I am saddened. Many (not all!) Generations after mine have become gentler and more empowered, and don’t see the need to sweat, like doing chores / work. When a crisis strikes, who do they turn to?
I believe that agricultural veterans will be the backbone of a new approach to farming. From them will come the education of people who finally see the need to work for their bread.
Almost 21 million veterans live in the United States, and 453,000 of them are unemployed. Many of them are from the longest war in US history. These people volunteered to risk their lives in order to protect this nation. They came back with an unparalleled skill set and work ethic. They understand hard work and are not afraid of it. They also need healing inside and out; many wounds that we cannot see. I am delighted to hear that these programs are available to our returning soldiers.
We need farmers who want to learn how to regenerate the soil, how to care for the soil while they heal themselves, and to be the example of a work ethic that has all but disappeared. We need our vets! The opportunities are there. Let’s connect the two!
Sherrie Ottinger, aka “The TN Dirtgirl”, is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. His passion is all that is “dirt”. She can be reached at [email protected] with comments or questions.