Don’t Forget Vets

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David Eddy

On the radio this morning I heard a woman say something I can’t get out of my mind. She and her husband are both veterans — he was wounded — and they recently returned home. She said a lot of their friends in the military aren’t excited about the prospect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ending, because they’re afraid that when they get home they won’t be able to find jobs. The reporter then said that while the nation’s unemployment rates are high, they are much higher for young veterans.

They’re worried about coming home from a war zone? At first that made me queasy, vaguely sick to my stomach. Then I got angry, but that doesn’t do anybody any good, so I thought I’d give props to a couple agricultural programs for returning veterans I’ve written about in the past, one a few years ago, one just recently. I figure if just one veteran benefits, it’s a lot better than spending what’s supposed to be a rainy Saturday afternoon partly watching college football, partly just staring
at the TV screen, wondering what the heck happened to my country.

Help Our Warriors
Last month we featured on our website, a new program called Ag Warriors (www.AgWarriors.com) that’s designed to benefit returning veterans by placing them in long-term ag professions. It’s being launched in February at the World Ag Expo in California with a big splashy gala featuring former President George W. Bush. The organizers at the International Agri-Center say they believe the agricultural community is well suited to provide jobs for veterans.

The in-residence course will include class work, field work, exam preparation, testing, mentoring, and internships — all designed to expose returning veterans to agriculture and to help them gain access to rewarding careers. Many veterans who might otherwise excel in ag lack the requisite training, certification, familiarity, or access to initiate careers in agriculture. Though it might be argued that anyone who can drive a Humvee over the rocks of Afghanistan can probably pilot a tractor over a loamy U.S. vegetable field.

A few years ago I wrote about another program, the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (www.farmvetco.org), where longtime vegetable grower Michael O’Gorman serves as project director. O’Gorman said it was a win/win. The vets need jobs, and ag needs an injection of new blood, what with the average age of a farmer approaching 60.

I talked to one young veteran in the program who grew up in the suburbs. All he knew about farming when he returned to the U.S. was what he had seen as an Infantry Team Leader in Iraq, like the pomegranate trucks at checkpoints and the chicken coops he searched for weapons. But he also said this: “I’m organized, committed, and dedicated, skills that transfer from the military.” They also sound like skills that transfer to farming.

David Eddy is editor of American/Western Fruit Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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