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Veterans to farmers. Military personnel grow organic crops

Buck Adams, founder of the Denver, Colorado-based non-profit Veterans to Farmers, knows first-hand that it's a lot more complicated coming home following a tour of duty - or two - than most people realize.

When that return stateside includes a stagnant economy and highly competitive job market, the initial relief of coming home can quickly turn into a struggle to remain positive about what the future holds for both the soldier and the soldier's family.

Adams, an ex-Marine, successful entrepreneur and businessman, founded Veterans to Farmers in the fall of 2011 to address not only the issue of job creation for veterans but, as he puts it, the opportunity to "turn protectors into providers."

Adams believes that for many of those veterans - and the communities they're returning to - one of the natural answers for 'what do I do next?' lies in the organic production of food. He believes there's a consistent and growing demand for locally produced food in Denver as well as in the US and overseas and that veterans can help fill this need.

Under the Veterans to Farmers program, veterans who apply and are accepted into the program participate in a nine-month curriculum, approved by the Veterans Administration, that covers not just agriculture production and management but the specialty area of controlled environment (greenhouse) food production. The program includes operational science and technology, small business management and hands-on training, ensuring the veteran has all the skills needed to succeed in working for someone else or in building their own farm.

"Our first class of veterans just completed their coursework," explains Adams, "and they left with a clear understanding of organic, hydroponic growing and the skill sets to either take a position in agriculture management or to start a farm of their own. In fact, one of our initial students has already started a small family farm as a direct result of the training he received with us."

That demonstration of entrepreneurship doesn't surprise Adams; after returning to Denver from his own time overseas he helped start several small businesses before pursuing his own idea, Circle Fresh Farms, Colorado's largest growers of organic hydroponic produce.

For other veterans to want the same thing makes sense to Adams. In fact, he says, " of the next programs to be implemented at Veterans to Farmers is one where the students can, if they choose, participate in building out and running a shared, cooperative greenhouse production facility which they can then in turn sell back to the group if they want. The pride and accomplishment of ownership in a small business helps the veteran begin to build a future, an undeniable foundation for a smooth transition into the civilian sector."

For some participants, like Marine Sergeant Benjamin Maestas, there's an intangible benefit that comes with the nine-month curriculum; a smoother emotional and psychological transition into Denver's civilian life. "From the military to here (working in the greenhouse) is a big contrast," Maestas explains. "Here the environment is a lot more serene."

Horticulture therapy is a recognized form of rehabilitation used for centuries and, coupled with the benefits of providing food to a local community, is a win-win partnership for a veteran.

"It's been proven that working with growing plants and being inside a greenhouse can have positive effects for those with PTSD," adds Adams, "and the trick now is to expand the program beyond Denver so that more veterans can enroll. We've located a handful of great farms around the country who are eager to participate as curriculum training sites and we've got plenty of veterans who are hearing about us and asking for available spots in the program. Now," laughs Adams, "we need to find the corporate sponsors and funding to keep up with the number of returning veterans who want a chance at this opportunity.

Our communities need healthier food grown locally, our country needs better access to fresh produce grown here and not in other countries while, conversely, there's a huge demand for organic food which we have the ability to produce. We have an extraordinary opportunity here - a real win-win-win - to turn our returning veterans, our protectors, into a new sort of hero as a provider."

by S. C.
02 august 2012, World News > America