Skip to main content

ARS Helps Veterans Weigh a Career in Agriculture

Posted by Dennis O'Brien, Public Affairs Specialist, Agricultural Research Service in Farming Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017
Veterans participating in building a chicken hoop house
Veterans participate in building a chicken hoop house, which is used to house and move poultry across pastures. Participants are instructed and assisted by veteran mentor Terrell Spencer of Across the Creek Farm. Photo credit: USDA-ARS

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

For many veterans, agriculture may be a career choice worth exploring when they return to civilian life. Veterans have discipline, passion and a sense of service—qualities that would translate well for anyone interested in getting into agriculture.

That may be why a collaborative USDA training project is such a hit. The program, run by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their partners in Fayetteville, Arkansas, trains veterans in the basics of agricultural practices by offering workshops, online courses, internships and “Armed to Farm” boot camps at various sites, including the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

“It helps veterans figure out if they want to get into farming, and if they do, how to get into it,” says Annie Donoghue, research leader at the ARS Poultry Production and Produce Safety Research Unit in Fayetteville.

Started in 2008, the program is designed with veterans’ input and funded with a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher grant. Partners include the University of Arkansas’ Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center in Booneville, Arkansas.

Learning is focused in areas of expertise shared by ARS scientists and faculty at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville: poultry and livestock production, small ruminant (sheep and goats) production, marketing and food production safety. In the 35 online course modules, veterans may learn how to raise poultry for eggs or how to market those eggs. At the workshops and “Armed to Farm” boot camps, they could learn how to milk a goat, rotationally graze cattle, or build a wood-framed chicken house that can be moved across a pasture.

The online courses, designed by ARS scientists and university professors and staff, have been particularly successful, recording over 30,000 hits since they were set up in 2010. There is no way to know how many online participants are veterans, but the courses are attracting a national audience. More information about the online courses is available here.

Hundreds of veterans have attended “Armed to Farm” workshops over the years, and at least 30 are expected to attend a boot camp this summer at the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville. The boot camps run for several days, and because the veterans stay in campus dormitories, it gives them a chance to share experiences, become friends with one another, and develop the kind of informal networks that can help them adjust to civilian life.

This project is also designed to minimize the veterans’ financial risk. Grants pay for their attendance at workshops and their on-campus housing during boot camps. The online courses are free. That way, if they decide farming is not for them, they can pursue other careers without incurring major debt.

One lesson often learned is that farming can be a major challenge. “You have to have some business skills, you have to be willing to put in a lot of hours, and in this part of the country, you might be out in the Arkansas heat for hours at a time. It’s not for everyone. But we’re giving these men and women who served our country an opportunity to see if it’s right for them,” Donoghue says.

Armed to Farm workshop participants learning to milk goats from farmer Linda Coffey of Maple Gore Farm
Armed to Farm workshop participants learn to milk goats from farmer Linda Coffey of Maple Gore Farm. Photo credit: USDA-ARS
Category/Topic: Farming Research and Science

Write a Response

CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


vass margaris
Apr 16, 2016

I am very interesting on all these programs, as, I am planning to create a Timber growing farm (with minor livestock and fruit trees for family needs) in central Florida.
Please provide me with all the pertinent information available!
Thanks in advance
Vassilios A. Margaris
MSG, US Army retired,

M. Blair
Apr 18, 2016

Texas AgrAbility and NRCS is helping veterans who are interested in being beginning farmers and ranchers. Battleground to Breaking Ground free workshops will be May 4 workshop in College Station and June 4 in San Antonio