rear view farmer in soybean field

A veteran returns home from war weary, sometimes shattered and frayed. Protecting our interests in foreign lands requires focus and tenacity with a different set of rules. Re-entering civilian life can be difficult because the same rules just don’t apply. A great shift must be facilitated in order to bring the veteran to a place of peace and a meaningful return to life without combat. So too does our agriculture require a shift away from the paradigm of combating the soil, the weeds, and the pests. Is it possible that returning veterans who return to the earth and the things thereof can also hasten the paradigm shift we need by returning harmony in agriculture?

The passion and tenacity of those in the military is unrivaled. This is one of the essential traits required to survive under harsh military conditions in foreign lands. Coming home to a culture that sometimes does not honor this passion can be challenging. Where does that passion get channeled?

In tandem with this question is the query of finding meaningful employment. The old rules don’t apply and the new rules haven’t been discovered. How does this passion and persistence transform into work? Perhaps the individual is wounded physically or psychologically, how can the shift be made with so many encumbrances?

The Farmers Veterans Coalition (FVC) is a national organization working to support veterans in answering those questions through work in sustainable and organic agriculture.   The Farmer Veteran Coalition works with veterans in the food and farming community in all 50 states. They provide answers to those questions through farming education, mentorship, internship and apprenticeship as well as conferences and workshops.  Through their efforts their Farmer Veterans produce a wide range of food and fiber products, all of which are an integral part of building and changing America’s food system.

I was lucky enough to meet some of their graduates at the Eco Farm Conference and was struck by the impact these veterans had made in their communities and in the field. Kelley Carlisle is a beautiful veteran with a vision! After serving as an Operations Specialist in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, Kelly returned home to East Oakland, CA where she found gardening to have a therapeutic effect.

In August of 2010, Kelly founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, a non-profit urban farm that focuses on serving at-risk youth from kindergarten to 8th grade, and their families. Childhood obesity and school dropout rates are abnormally high in East Oakland; Acta Non Verba’s mission is to utilize urban farming as a catalyst to increase the standard of living for inner city youth. As a mother and a passionate veteran, Kelly feels very strongly in creating a healthier future for East Oakland youth. With the help of FVC she is expanding her operations by establishing a farmer’s market on-site, and beginning community classes on composting, cooking, and basic gardening.

You can read more transformational stories of Farmer Veterans on the website here.

What strikes me about these many stories is the change that is occurring within these individuals through agriculture. Not only is the human being healed but this healing facilitates transformation within communities and eco-systems.

Our Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, also acknowledges the opportunity agriculture presents for returning service members and their communities. His sponsorship of the FVC is undeniable in his letter of support. Additionally, the USDA provides assistance and support through the USDA Veterans Employment Program and through the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach announced the availability of $9.1 million in 2014 of additional funding for financial assistance through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program!

Healing our service people one individual at a time through right livelihood in organic and sustainable agriculture is a path to healing the planet.

When veterans dig their shovels into the fertile earth they smell life, healing, and success!

I am proud that UNFI and the UNFI Foundation support the Farmers Veterans Coalition now and since its early inception. If you have a veteran in your life, please share the resources above. Recovering our soils by cultivating sustainable methods is a path to curing not only the people but the planet!

Tell me how you can support veterans in agriculture.

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog www.organicmattersblog.com covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture  www.unfifoundation.org. Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association www.ota.com.

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