FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 10/7/2020
Contact: Jenni Roop
Ag Education Communications Manager
Appalachian Sustainable Development awarded $317,000 to expand Farmer and Rancher Mentoring program to serve Military Veterans
BRISTOL, Va. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE) announced that Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) has been awarded $317,000 to expand its Farmer and Rancher Mentoring (FARM) program to create opportunities for military veterans. The funds will be used over a three year period to expand FARM to include an initiative titled Boots on the Ground: Supporting Veterans in Agriculture, with a focus on meeting the specific needs of veterans in Central Appalachia.
Launched in 2017 in partnership with Rural Resources and ARC&D, ASD’s FARM program has served 21 beginning farmer interns who participated in a variety of on-farm internship opportunities designed to educate and prepare them for successful careers in farming and agriculture. Acting as a portal of entry to fill ASD’s farmer pipeline, FARM prepares Appalachians for careers in agriculture through community development and coalition-building, outreach and recruitment, education, training and technical assistance, market access and help with sales and logistics.
Building upon and expanding the early success of FARM, Boots on the Ground will create specialized opportunities for veterans to enter the beginning farmer pipeline through virtual education, on-farm internships, and membership in a veteran farmer coalition. ASD aims to serve 100 military veterans with education, training, and resources along the agriculture career path.
Jenni Roop, ASD’s FARM Program Manager explains, “Over the last 25 years of work with farmers and ranchers, we have learned that most need tools, training and networking opportunities to help them scale up operations and increase their income. Folks often need to learn a new trade or advance their careers with new skills and they need access to available resources. Data from our preliminary needs assessment and interviews indicate that current veteran farmers have needs which this program will meet like education in business planning, access to market opportunities, assistance in scaling up operations, mentoring and technical assistance. ASD’s goal is to increase the income and number of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers. This funding will help us expand to provide support and training to veterans to help them succeed in agriculture so that more veterans can become farmers and ranchers. Not only will this program offer veterans unique and effective options for successful careers, it may also provide therapeutic benefits.”
Central Appalachia has a rapidly aging farmer population (average age is 59.5) and struggles to achieve a replacement rate. Additionally, some veterans struggle with gainful employment in their transition to civilian life. While the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct training and education for transitioning service
members, these programs neither identify the opportunities that exist in the agriculture industry nor provide the skills necessary to be successful in agriculture. ASD aims to reduce the average age of farmers while providing veterans with a satisfying and immediate career option.
Veterans in Central Appalachia face a variety of barriers to productive and lucrative employment because they often struggle to access support services in the remote communities in which they live. ASD’s strategy for addressing these challenges includes modifying programs to train and support veterans by developing a regional veterans coalition, increasing skills and knowledge of trade practices, and facilitating access to markets. In the Boots on the Ground program, veterans will learn agriculture skills while also interacting with veteran support agencies to assess needs, tailor training for veterans and assist with building business plans that fill confirmed market demand. ASD will collaborate with additional organizations in this effort, including VA Highlands Community College, Farmer Veteran Coalition, ARC&D and other service providers identified during the project.
John Fant, President of the Virginia Chapter Farmer Veteran Coalition comments, “The Farmer Veteran Coalition’s mission is to mobilize veterans to feed America. This grant, along with ASD’s superb organizational skills, will ensure veterans will have the opportunity to receive the knowledge and experience needed to be successful in agriculture. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is we need a resilient food system. There is nothing more resilient than a vet. Helping veterans get started in agriculture is really about helping veterans continue to serve the nation.”
About The USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement
The Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement develops and maintains partnerships focused on solutions to challenges facing rural and underserved communities in the United States, and connects those communities to the education, tools, and resources available to them through U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and initiatives. They facilitate partnerships and offer education and resources to foster hope and opportunity, wealth creation, and asset building in rural and underserved communities. Learn more at: https://www.usda.gov/partnerships.
About Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD)
Nationally known and respected for its commitment to local farmers, Appalachian Sustainable Development celebrates its 25th year in 2020. ASD’s mission is to transition Appalachia to a more resilient economy and a healthier population by supporting local agriculture, exploring new economic opportunities and connecting people to healthy food.
Since 1995, Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) has been working in 15 counties in Central Appalachia. ASD’s reach has since expanded to include partners in eastern WV and KY and southeast Ohio. ASD uses six strategies to accomplish its work: education, increasing local food production, developing markets, increasing distribution of local agriculture products, engaging strategic partners, and researching/consulting and advising. ASD runs several programs, all focused on the food and ag sectors, including programs that help feed hungry people and programs in economic and workforce development that build opportunities for farmers to succeed. For more information about ASD go to: https://asdevelop.org, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
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