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Workshops assist veterans who want to farm

By Staff | Feb 2, 2014

STORM LAKE – Iowa veterans who want to trade the battlefield for a farm field can participate in a one-day workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 15 at Buena Vista University, Siebens Forum, IPS 4, in Storm Lake.

The newly formed Farmer Veteran Coalition of Iowa is hosting the workshop to provide vets interested in Iowa agriculture with networking opportunities and education.

The workshops will follow a format similar to the group’s successful statewide conference that was held Dec. 14, 2013 in Des Moines and funded by a special project grant from the Policy Initiative at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

More than 60 veterans and agency officials attended the conference, including more than 30 aspiring or beginning farmers.

Ed Cox, FVCIA chair, is an attorney with the Drake University Agricultural Law Center. He said the statewide conference followed by the Storm lake meetings will reach a group whose interest in farming is increasing nationwide.

“This is a distinct group of farmers,” said Cox, “who have different challenges as well as opportunities due to their experience in the military and eligibility for different veteran programs.

“The veterans in attendance covered the agricultural spectrum and are very diverse. Some are returning to family farm operations, while others are looking for land and capital to start growing specialty crops or value-added enterprises.

“The thing they all have in common is a history of service and a desire to continue that service by providing secure, healthy food to their communities.”

About 40 percent of military service members are from rural communities, and interest from Iowa vets in finding jobs in agriculture has been high.

Given a higher-than-average jobless rate for young vets, and the need for economic development in rural communities, Cox said the farmer veteran assistance program offers a win-win situation for Iowa.

Farmer veterans had an opportunity to connect with more than 20 veteran and agricultural service providers who also attended the statewide conference.

They attended sessions on the challenges and opportunities of starting a farm business as well as finding employment in agriculture and rural Iowa.

Cox said conference evaluations showed that veterans want networking time and educational materials.

The most requested topics for additional information related to conservation and sustainability issues, including intensive grazing management and on-farm energy production.

The workshops will feature educational presentations about farm business development, sustainability, legal issues, and any other concerns vets may have.

The attendees also will have the chance to meet with service providers including the U.S. Department of Agriculture,Veterans Affairs, the Iowa State University Beginning Farmer Center and the Drake Agricultural Law Center.

Details on these meetings are available at www.iowafarmerveteran.org.

In addition to Leopold Center support for the workshops, other partners include the Iowa Finance Authority Agricultural Development Division, the Beginning Farmer Center and Easter Seals of Iowa.

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