There’s always something to give thanks for at harvest time, but our gratitude shouldn’t be limited to this page of the calendar. Farmers, ranchers, and veterans come to mind as leaves become memories and daylight diminishes. This small portion of our population ensures that what we sometimes take for granted as plans for the holiday season unfold, is also available for all year round.
When you think about it, each time we lift a fork from our table, a farmer or rancher makes possible almost every morsel of food on the plate. At night as we enjoy resting peacefully in the comfort of our homes, a member of our military is somewhere in harm’s way providing a blanket of security for our uninterrupted sleep. The men and women responsible for these gifts display the best of rural America’s cultural landscape.
Those who make our lives secure and grow the food we consume are really a small portion of our population. According to the 2012 agricultural census 2.1 million farmers in our country generate food, fuel, and fiber for America and nations around the world. Numbers for our active duty armed forces total 1.3 million—that’s about 1.6 percent of the U.S. population. Whether they wear cowboy or combat boots, farming and ranching seem like a natural fit for many who grew up in agricultural families. Recent data shows that 45 percent of the military come from rural America. Their values are tied to the land as well as a culture of service to their communities.
These groups are small in numbers yet they are powerful reflections of our national character—indomitable in spirit, committed proudly throughout generations to our land, and its defense. They stand for the common good in moments of natural disaster, during bountiful harvests, in times of peace, and in war.
It’s no wonder that nearly 4 million veterans reside in rural and agricultural communities. Secretary Vilsack commented that our veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of their country, and a sense of duty to give back to a nation that has done so much for us all. Returning veterans also bring back additional education and technical skills that reinforce their capability for leadership roles in their home towns.
Veterans transitioning from active duty face many challenges. The agricultural industry is a logical solution to fill the economic gap veterans face. USDA is committed to assisting veterans start or continue farming and ranching operations in order to strengthen the American economy and provide livelihoods to our returning veterans.
In addition to efforts to hire returning veterans and qualifying family members, the USDA is strengthening connections with members of the military who live in rural America or wish to pursue careers in farming or ranching. The USDA for Veterans, Reservists and Military Families Task Force is working to create models of how the diverse array of USDA programs can work together to help communities establish job training programs and other efforts to assist returning military.
Secretary Vilsack recently noted that “agriculture is not often the first thing people think of for returning veterans.” USDA is consequently expanding its efforts to discuss resources and opportunities for veterans across the country and recently launched a new website, https://newfarmers.usda.gov/veterans.The site is specifically designed to educate veterans and currently serving members of the military about USDA programs and available resources.
We owe these past, and present generations of farmers, ranchers, and veterans a heartfelt thanks that stretches beyond harvest time. It is a debt that carries into the future honoring men and women who currently serve as much as those transitioning back to civilian life.
This is a season to put matters in perspective and give thanks, but words only go so far. Some veterans explain that the perfunctory, Thank you for your service too often rings shallow. Perhaps we should extend a helping hand in the agricultural community and also say, Welcome Home.
Our nation’s history is forged in agriculture as much as the sacrifice of men and women whose devotion to liberty and basic human rights guarantees the freedoms we enjoy today.
As America comes together this month to celebrate holidays, I encourage everyone across our enterprise to recognize the service of our nation’s returned service members, the hard work of our farmers, ranchers and the bounty they provide our great country. They deliver the difference.