New workshops aim to help veterans seeking to farm

By AMES TRIBUNE, IOWA | Ames Tribune, Iowa | Published: January 3, 2014

AMES, Iowa — With a growing number of veterans looking for jobs in agriculture, a new series of workshops is geared toward helping these former soldiers make the transition from the battlefield to the farm field.

The one-day workshops are being supported by Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and will kick off next month in Ottumwa, with other stops planned in Waterloo, Red Oak and Storm Lake.

The newly formed Farmer Veteran Coalition of Iowa is hosting the series, which will provide education and networking opportunities, two things veterans requested following a statewide conference last month.

Ed Cox, an attorney with the Drake University Agricultural Law Center who also served in the U.S. Coast Guard, chairs the farmer veteran assistance program and said the regional workshops will follow a format similar to what the coalition used when hosting their statewide event. The December conference gave veterans the opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities of starting a farm business, as well as the search for employment in agriculture and rural Iowa.

In evaluations participants filled out after the event, Cox said the coalition learned the veterans wanted more networking opportunities and educational materials, with topics such as conservation and sustainability issues, including management intensive grazing and on-farm energy production, among the most requested.

The workshops, which will run from Feb. 20 to March 15, will now aim to provide that additional outreach.

The goal is to reach a group whose interest in farming is increasing nationwide, Cox said in a statement issued by ISU’s Leopold Center announcing the new series.

“This is a distinct group of farmers, who have different challenges as well as opportunities due to their experience in the military and eligibility for different veteran programs,” Cox said, adding that the veterans also represent very diverse backgrounds when it comes to agricultural.

“Some are returning to family farm operations, while others are looking for land and capital to start growing specialty crops or value added enterprises,” Cox said. “The thing they all have in common is a history of service and a desire to continue that service by providing secure, healthy food to their communities.”

More than one-third of military service members are from rural communities, and interest among Iowa veterans in finding jobs in agriculture has been high, according to the coalition. When coupling the fact that the average jobless rate among young veterans is higher than average, as well as the need for economic development in the state’s rural community, Cox boasted that the coalition’s goals present a “win-win” situation for Iowa.

The new workshops will feature presentations on farm business development, sustainability, legal issues, and attempt to address any other concerns veterans may have while pursuing employment opportunities in agriculture. Those who attend will also have the opportunity to meet with representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, ISU’s Beginning Farmer Center, Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center, and other groups.

Along with support from the Leopold Center, the workshops are also being made possible through partnerships with the Beginning Farmer Center, the Iowa Finance Authority Agricultural Development Division and Easter Seals Iowa.

More information is available online at www.iowafarmerveteran.org.


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