By Beth Grabau
What if there was an organization in Iowa working with people who want to transition from their military service to the agricultural sector? That question describes the mission of Veterans In Agriculture, whose leadership has an interest and a passion for agriculture and helping veterans make that transition.
The need for this type of organization is obvious after you learn the statistics. Rural America makes up about 15% of the overall population of the United States, but 45% of those who serve in uniform come from these rural communities. Roughly half of the veterans questioned would like to return to their home area. Iowa has over 230,000 veterans, making up 6% of its population, while farmers make up only 3%.
Given those numbers, you may be surprised to learn that this organization was only founded in 2013. The idea to do this work was put into motion when now board member, Lyle Stewart of Marengo, attended an event at Kirkwood Community College. A veteran stood and spoke about his tours of duty and his difficulty finding a job in the ag sector when he was home. Hearing the story, Stewart took action and began contacting others who may be interested in collaborating on the issue. A committee was formed, bylaws were written, and a nonprofit organization was established.
Vets who have passion for farming
Volatile agriculture markets, high capital costs and seemingly few jobs in rural areas may seem like high hurdles to tackle and can be discouraging to those interested in entering agriculture. But that is not the case. Veterans who are interested in entering farming do so because of the passion they have for it. We talk about those entering agriculture, but we also need to recognize the tremendous number of people who served, came home and have been working in agriculture. These individuals provided global security through many conflicts and wars; they came home to the farm and began providing food security to our county and to the world.
The goals of our organization are simple: assist military veterans to develop, grow and succeed as productive members of Iowa’s agricultural industry and rural communities; provide training, link veterans to resources, networks, programs and organizations; and collaborate with other veteran organizations to significantly support veterans so they can establish and maintain successful farming, ranching or other agricultural businesses.
VIA provides individual assistance
The amount of information found online can be overwhelming, and many just need help sorting it out, where to start or how the information fits into their operation. This is where Veterans In Agriculture helps. Individuals who contact the organization is provided individualized assistance to fit their interests, location, skills and abilities. Veterans call or email our office with questions, such as obtaining ag financing to help with raising honeybees or bison, and everything in-between. The diversity of agriculture among veteran farmers is the same as with Iowa’s established farmers.
VIA works with all who have worn the uniform, including those who are pursuing education in agriculture with the help of the GI bill at a two- or four-year college, as well as veterans who are looking for work in agriculture to gain experience and knowledge before starting a farm of their own. We also help disabled veterans.
Important partnerships helping
One key collaborator with VIA is Iowa State University’s Beginning Farmer Center. The BFC’s Ag Link Program helps with identifying available land and helps match landowners who are interested in helping a beginning farmer by transitioning the operation over time versus the landowner selling out upon retirement. The partnership with the BFC also offers Start to Farm Workshops, a Returning to Farm Conference, and other needed educational opportunities.
Easter Seals is also a partner through its AgriAbility program, which enhances the quality of life for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities. This program accommodates disabled veterans. Working with the Home Base Iowa initiative, VIA is able to identify veterans who are looking for jobs and internships in agriculture.
Expanding programs and services
In recent months, VIA has begun an equipment donation program, facilitating the transfer of excess equipment to a veteran in need. A closed Facebook page called “Buy, Sell or Trade for Veterans in Agriculture” has been started to help facilitate transfers of equipment between individuals. Hopefully, this page will fill a need for those our organization works with, as well as a way veterans involved in agriculture can share with each other. Our current equipment requests are from disabled veterans who need Gators, as well as veterans who are growing produce and have a need for smaller tractors with attachments. We are planning fundraisers to raise funds to acquire some of the items that are needed.
A labeling program is also planned for next year. The goal is to help those who would like to support a veteran in the marketplace by more easily being able to identify them. Educational workshops and programs are being planned for this fall and winter.
VIA empowers veterans to thrive in agriculture by either connecting them to the resources needed to be successful in farm businesses or by linking veterans to agricultural employers for successful careers. If you would like more information, visit veteransinagriculture.org or contact us by email at [email protected].
Visit VIA exhibit at Iowa State Fair
Aug. 14 is Veterans Day at the 2017 Iowa State Fair. That day the Veterans in Agriculture exhibit will be located in the Agriculture Building with staff and volunteers on-hand to answer questions and meet with military veterans and others interested in learning more about VIA. Aug.14 is the only day the VIA exhibit will be open at this year’s Iowa State Fair.
When you visit the VIA exhibit, pick up a flier listing other exhibits on the fairgrounds that have programs, hiring preferences and information specifically available to veterans and those interested in agriculture. Veteran-owned ag businesses will also be highlighted that day. VIA salutes all farmer veterans for their service to our country.
Grabau is executive director of Veterans in Agriculture, based in Urbandale.