Organizations like Annie's Project and the Farmer Veteran Coalition aim to help women veterans succeed in ag careers.
For veterans, the transition from military service back to civilian life is never simple. Many veterans return to the United States struggling with combat-related health issues (both physical and mental) and unable to find gainful, steady employment. However, a growing number of programs are dedicated to easing that difficult transition into a successful career in farming or agriculture for the largest and fastest-growing veteran minority group: women.
Approximately 20 percent of today’s military population is female, and many are starting careers in food, farming and agriculture upon returning to civilian lifestyles. Organizations like Annie’s Project and the Farmer Veteran Coalition make it their missions to help these diverse women succeed in their farming ventures.
In the summer of 2012, through a partnership with Annie’s Project and the USDA Risk Management Agency, the Farmer Veteran Coalition hosted the Empowering Women Veterans: Business, Agriculture and Well-being conference, its first-ever conference designed to help female veterans begin careers in agriculture and ease the transition back to civilian life.
Anna Mann, a female veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Joint Forge, returned to the United States and started Chestnut Ridge Farm, a sustainable, family-owned farm located in Mount Airy, N.C. Chestnut Ridge specializes in pork and poultry but also sells honey, eggs, homemade preserves and flowers at two local farmers’ markets.
At the EWV conference, Mann spoke on the difficulties and importance of becoming your own boss after being immersed in the strict organization of the military in Iraq.
The event brought in more than 50 veterans from across the country to participate in workshops and panels covering every aspect of farm ownership, from an introduction to accounting software to sessions on farm labor and the USDA Risk Management Agency’s five areas of risk. The budding veteran-farmers who attended this conference left well-equipped to start (or continue) their own careers in agriculture.
Annie’s Project, an organization run by the Iowa State University Extension, focuses on risk-management education for farm and ranch women, allowing them to become better business partners through networking and information management and organization. The program’s namesake, Annette Fleck, was a savvy, skilled farm woman from northern Illinois who helped her husband manage their family farm for 50 years. Annie’s Project’s mission is to teach Fleck’s values to a new generation of farm women. The organization currently offers classes in 27 states, and each course consists of six 3-hour sessions on topics such as record keeping, legal and environmental issues, marketing, and farm management.
The Veteran Farmers Project, established by the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., is hosting a web-based farm training session this Friday, Nov. 16, for any veteran looking for additional information on farm ownership and management. Like the EWV conference, the VFP teaches a two-pronged approach to farm ownership, focusing on both business and agriculture. In addition to the webinar (which will be archived on the CFRA website), the organization provides workshops, farm tours and individual consultations to veterans looking for farming help.
Even if female veterans aren’t looking to start careers in farming members of, the agriculture community are still reaching out to provide help any way they can. Freedom Farm, a therapeutic riding center in Waverly, Minn., operates Healing With Horses, a program that provides female veterans the opportunity to recover from both physical and emotional combat ailments through a therapy course built around horseback riding. Veterans who enroll in the program are able to gradually rebuild confidence, trust and focus through support groups with fellow veterans and unique riding experiences, including volunteer training that enables them to work with other Freedom Farm riders, such as children with special needs.
As Mann says, farming is a great career choice for returning veterans, and the aforementioned programs are working hard to spread the word and ease the transition for these national heroes.