By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsJanuary 28, 2020
Veterans are being asked to serve their country once again.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, America's farmers, at an average age of 58, are becoming a dying breed.
As a result, officials are reaching out to veterans to find people with the right stuff needed to continue growing the nation's food.
"In my opinion, there is no other group of people out there [more] used to hard work, waking up early, [putting in] late hours and who are mission focused than our veterans," said Bill Ashton, a USDA military veteran agricultural liaison. "Veterans are extremely resilient. This is a business with many aspects to it; it's hands-on hard work, and that's why they're a good fit for agriculture."
In a National Public Radio broadcast, Lanon Baccam, another USDA military veteran agricultural liaison, said 40% of the nation's armed forces come from rural America, and many of those will return to their roots.
The USDA supports veterans through three pillars: employment, education and entrepreneurship, according to Ashton.
"[They] can pursue more than 200 career options in agriculture," said Ashton. From farming, ranching, crop grading and food safety inspection to accounting, information technology, marketing, research and even firefighting, all these jobs help keep farms and our food system running."
Ashton said the USDA will support veteran entrepreneurs with business loans and grants. In fact, veteran farmers and ranchers get preferences for most of their farm credit and conservation programs.
Individual states' programs also work with veterans who want to get their hands dirty.
According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (website at the link below), the Kentucky Proud program is an agricultural development program that promotes Homegrown by Heroes, a marketing initiative that identifies veteran farmers by a distinctive logo to promote them as a worthwhile choice from which to purchase agricultural products.
Another Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Proud program will match veterans needing immediate employment with farmers needing quality workers to provide the former service members with a current income and on-the-job training for a future in farming.
Joseph Padgett of Padgett's Produce, a Vietnam War veteran and a participant with the Kentucky Proud program, said veterans are perfect candidates for farming.
"Working with nature helped me psychologically," Padgett said. "It [could] help veterans come back to who they were before they went into the service. It helped me."
Padgett said, though farming is hard work, it has advantages over a typical office job.
"If you're someone who enjoys nature, farming offers you the solace you need and rewarding [employment] while at the same time letting you get back to living on your own timetable."