Before serving in my current role at USDA, I served eight years in the U.S. Army and the Iowa National Guard, including a 15-month mobilization and deployment as a combat engineer in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During my tour, I saw firsthand the tremendous scope of unique skills, experiences and perspectives held by those who serve in our armed forces.
Those exact same skills can be an excellent fit for farming and ranching, which is why USDA is increasing its efforts to introduce agriculture as a career possibility to the 1,300 new veterans and their families who return to civilian life each day.
Everyone at USDA plays an active role in that effort, from the national office in Washington, D.C., to each of the 2,100 county offices in nearly every rural county in America, all staffed by 100,000+ employees – - including 11,000 veterans.
One such person is Cassondra Searight, an outreach coordinator in Alabama with the Farm Service Agency (FSA). A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Searight is promoting Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s mission to help veterans get into farming by coordinating statewide seminars in Alabama to help active duty military, veterans and their families transition or continue in farming, ranching and other agriculture-related jobs.
Cassondra told me these seminars, entitled “Farm Foundations for Veterans,” will be an excellent way for active duty members to explore farming on a small scale before they leave the military and acquire the prerequisite experience needed to scale up their operation when they are ready to start their next career as producers. The first seminar begins April 5 to April 7, and others are scheduled for May and June.
The event, hosted by FSA in partnership with the National Center of Appropriate Technology (NCAT), will provide information on getting started in farming, how to qualify for government programs that reward land stewardship and conservation efforts, pursuing profitable niche markets, developing a business plan and organic certification. Other topics include livestock production, pest management, estate planning and risk management.
Other USDA agencies, including Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Rural Development (RD) will present program information. A full day will be devoted to visiting livestock and fruit/vegetable farms for hands-on experience. Soon, more workshops in more states across the country will be announced. In fact, just last month I traveled to Texas for a recruitment, education and networking event hosted by Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, to launch the first ever USDA Ag workshop at their conference.
Since 2009, USDA has provided $443 million in farm loans to help more than 6,505 veterans purchase farmland, buy equipment and make repairs and upgrades to farm businesses. USDA even offers benefits ranging from conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities. Learn more about how USDA helps veterans by visitinghttps://www.nal.usda.gov/veterans-agriculture. To learn more about Alabama Farm Foundations for Veterans seminars, read https://fsa.blogs.govdelivery.com/2016/03/25/military-veterans-interested-in-ag-learn-here/