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Military Experience Opens Door for Soldier to Return to the Farm

Graduating from high school in the small town of Blakely, Georgia, Tracy Robinson was required to take an armed forces aptitude test. When asked what he wanted to do with his life, Robinson said he wanted to farm. The Marine recruiter told him he would be a great field artilleryman.

“I heard the word field and thought it had something to do with farming,” said Robinson. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and after finding out field artillery had nothing to do with farming he stayed and fought for his country for 24 years, serving in Desert Shield, Afghanistan and Iraq.

NIFA Collaborates Internationally to Help Countries Improve Food Security

Food security, having a reliable source of safe and nutritious food, is a cornerstone of good human health.  In many poor countries around the world, achieving and maintaining food security is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) can help countries meet through its Center for International Programs (CIP).

Patty Fulton, NIFA national program leader for international programs, traveled to Dondon, Haiti, where she served as a mentor to Haitian administrators and teachers at a newly opened vocational agricultural school.  The project, managed by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in collaboration with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, is implemented by a team of agricultural educators from the University of California – Davis (UC Davis).  The UC-Davis team created a curriculum and trained school administrators and teachers at the vocational agriculture school in Dondon.

USDA Helps Military Veterans Explore Agriculture as a Career

Before serving in my current role at USDA, I served eight years in the U.S. Army and the Iowa National Guard, including a 15-month mobilization and deployment as a combat engineer in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During my tour, I saw firsthand the tremendous scope of unique skills, experiences and perspectives held by those who serve in our armed forces.

Those exact same skills can be an excellent fit for farming and ranching, which is why USDA is increasing its efforts to introduce agriculture as a career possibility to the 1,300 new veterans and their families who return to civilian life each day.

A Commitment We Must Keep

When Ivory Smith of Poplarville, Mississippi separated from the Army after ten years of service – including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – he attended a USDA-sponsored workshop held through our partner, the National Center for Appropriate Technology. At this 'Armed to Farm' workshop for returning Veterans, he learned about small-scale sustainable agricultural practices, and from there developed his microgreens company, SmithPonics, that now supplies fresh salad microgreens to restaurants in his area.

Many of our Veterans, old and young alike, are dealing with the physical and mental scars of combat. USDA Rural Development has been able to provide real support to those Veterans who need care when they return from service – Veterans like Leon Kauzlarich from rural Appanoose County, Iowa. Leon got help to repair his home, and make it accessible to help with his mobility issues.

Virginia Farmer Balances Family, Farming and Flying with the Air National Guard

From the deserts of Afghanistan, to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, James “Buck” Holsinger has served his country as a pilot and a farmer. From an early age, Buck dreamed of becoming a pilot. After the events of September 11, 2001, he made the decision to enlist. For two tours in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, Buck flew large cargo planes.

After his second tour in Afghanistan and the birth of his third child, Buck wanted to return to farming so he could instill the same values in his children.

Buck is a 9th generation farmer.  He grew up working on the farm with his father, grandfather, and cousins. Buck recalls, “On the weekends, it was everybody’s second job.” Looking back, he says, “Some of the tools and knowledge that I gained have been invaluable in all my careers including the military because I learned that farming work ethic.”

Secretary's Column: In Rural America, Promise and Opportunity Abound for Veterans

Veterans have sacrificed dearly to keep this country safe. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security. We owe it to our military men and women to ensure a different kind of security is waiting when they return home—the security that comes from the promise of a good job, affordable housing, a quality education and dependable health care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands proudly alongside those who have served. Our staff across America includes more than 11,000 veterans – and our team works hard every day to strengthen services and programs in rural areas that support veterans and their families as they achieve their dreams. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning and training opportunities for those who want to start a farm or ranch to grants and loans to help veterans start or expand a rural business.

Armed to Farm: Bridging Veterans to Agriculture

"I'm used to hard work; I served in the Infantry - but agriculture is a different kind of hard work." That's what Ivory Smith, founder of SmithPonics in Poplarville, Miss, had to say about opening his own business selling microgreens.

Ivory was one of many veterans who participated in a recent 'Armed to Farm' workshop in Jackson, Mississippi. Sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (also known as ATTRA), and funded in part through USDA Rural Development, the workshop gave veterans a chance to learn about sustainable small-scale farming practices and visit working agribusinesses to learn from them first-hand.

NRCS Ag Adviser Recognized for Outstanding Service in Afghanistan

An assistant state conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently received a top honor for his service overseas in Afghanistan, where he served as an agricultural adviser for two different tours.

Darren Richardson, who works for NRCS in Lubbock County, Texas, was among 72 people recognized by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in late May. Richardson received the Tom Stefani Distinguished International Service Award for brave accomplishments in the face of danger.

Richardson served as a senior adviser to the U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. Richardson served two tours, from 2009 to 2010 as a technical advisor for the military unit, and in 2013 as a senior agricultural advisor in western Afghanistan, supervising USDA field advisers in the western region.

Iowa Veteran, Farmer and Local-Foods Advocate Recognized by White House as a "Champion of Change"

Sonia Kendrick, who founded Feed Iowa First, a non-profit organization in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was among a small group of local leaders across the nation recognized by the White House recently as “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change.” The event on March 25 honored women veterans, highlighting their incredible contributions to the country’s business, public and community-service sectors.

Kendrick served in Afghanistan and upon her return was drawn to fighting hunger issues in Iowa through locally-grown food.  By identifying available land around churches and other sites in the Cedar Rapids area and securing access to it, she and other volunteers have grown, harvested and donated thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries and the Meals on Wheels program.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Salutes Staff for Service to Country & Conservation

Earlier this month the United States observed Veteran’s Day.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) proudly supports veterans and celebrates their service to country and conservation.

“We’re honored that so many veterans have chosen to come work for NRCS,” Chief Jason Weller said. “Their dedication, commitment and discipline are invaluable assets to our conservation mission.”

Kevin Shuey, NRCS contract specialist in North Carolina, is an Air Force veteran. He spent his last four years in the service teaching leadership skills to other airmen.