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Returning Veterans Turn To Agriculture

Marc Silva

As veterans come home to New York from military service, many are considering careers in agriculture.

We've heard many stories about young vets returning from service, unable to find jobs, having difficulties re-adjusting to civilian life. Yet, there are many opportunities available: among them, programs accentuating farming in its various forms. Cornell University has developed a Small Farms Program to support returning veterans.

Anu Rangarajan  is a senior extension associate at Cornell's department of horticulture. She directs the Small Farm Program and says it has attracted a mix of individuals, including many from non-traditional audiences.  "Military veterans are one group of individuals, returning from active duty and looking to re-enter civilian life.  Many of these veterans are from rural areas. They have a broad amount of experience and background that their service provided. And often they really prefer and enjoy working with their hands and they like those active types of employment."

When Marc Silva completed three years serving with the Army in Afghanistan, he knew the skills he acquired in the military could be applied to agriculture. He came home to his cousin's dairy farm in St. Lawrence County, and anticipates one day having his own small, sustainable farm.  "Dairy is just one aspect of farming and that's what I have experience in. There's so much more to agriculture than that... start-up wineries, grapes, vegetables, beef, chickens, niche marketing on a small scale... those are all great ways to get into farming, and especially on a smaller scale it would also give you opportunity to also work off the farm and you can just put in a little bit of time, grow an oversized garden and sell some extra vegetables at the local farmer's market is definitely a good way to do it... start out, anyway."

Cornell's Rangarajan  thinks vets and agriculture make a good match.  "We know that working with plants can be therapeutic in a lot of different ways. You can just look at the number of people that garden as a major hobby.  They have a lot of really great skills that they've learned in the military, as machinists, or understanding product flow, or just operations, and all of those skills would apply to getting into any kind of a business.  So we wanna make sure that we have pathways for veterans who might be interested in agriculture to actually consider, explore and engage in meaningful ways. Sometimes its challenging for vets to get the kind of support they need through the VA, I think agriculture hasn't always been on the list of meaningful job opportunities, and we want to see that change."

Read more about the Cornell Small Farms Program.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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