By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Lots of veterans are looking for structure, purpose and a sense of community when they leave the military, and more and more are turning to farming to find it.
About 5 million veterans live in rural areas of the U.S. – a higher concentration than any other part of the country – so it makes sense that a viable career path after the military is to work in agriculture in some way.
But what if you’re not an experienced farmhand, or you don’t know how to start such a business?
Well, you’re in luck. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense are teaming up to expand the reach of the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program, which sees about 200,000 veterans a year and offers career training tools and incentives needed to start a farm or ranch.
“Rural America disproportionately sends its sons and daughters to serve in the military,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said. “When service members return home, we want them to know that rural America has a place for them, no matter where they’re from.”
According to the USDA, lots of veterans have shown interest in agriculture, thinking that farm-related work can be a holistic way to ease back into civilian life. It’s also a way to put their logistical training to work, renew their sense of purpose, continue serving the community and even be their own bosses if they want to.
“Our transitioning service members leave the military with a variety of essential skills, including leadership and discipline that could be directly applied to a career in agriculture,” said Dr. Susan S. Kelly, Director of the DoD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office.
The DoD/USDA collaboration will make sure new farmers get the funding, training and technical assistance they need.
With the help of the Agricultural Act of 2014, veterans can get access to capital through the beginning farmer loan program, conservation programs, farm ownership loans or microloans, which are smaller loans for small or niche farms, like those that raise alpacas or make maple syrup.
In the past six years, the USDA has given $438 million in farm loans that have helped more than 6,480 veterans buy farmland and equipment, as well as make repairs and upgrades. The microloan program has given more than $22.6 million in support to more than 1,000 veterans.
There’s also the Homegrown by Heroes program through the Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is supported by the USDA. It celebrates local products that have been grown, raised or produced by farming U.S. veterans. The program, which started nationwide about two years ago, has since expanded to include more than 250 members in 43 states.
Whether you came from the country or just want to end up there after your military career is over, these options are definitely something to look into!
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