With funding from the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program), the Small Farms team is launching its first ever veteran-focused Growing Agripreneurs program at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, OR (SOREC). In partnership with Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) and the Josephine County Veterans Service Office (VSO), the Growing Veteran Agripreneurs (GVA) program will offer a pilot program training veterans in how to start and manage a small farm business while coordinating a statewide effort to review and enhance the resources supporting veteran farmers and ranchers.
Over the past decade, there has been increasing awareness of the potential of farming as a career pathway for veterans. With both a national need for new farmers and the high-unemployment rate of veterans, helping veterans enter farming supports both causes. In addition, farming is well- suited to many veterans as many of them come from, and return to, rural areas. A USDA report from 2013 suggests that training rural veterans is a wise investment, because they tend to have more education and technical training than their nonveteran rural peers, and they bring unique skills from their military experience. Southern Oregon is home to a higher than average veteran population, due in part to the presence of the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center, the nation’s only freestanding residential rehabilitation center. Many of these veterans are in need of job training and employment opportunities so piloting the GVA program at SOREC is a natural fit.
The GVA training program will offer experiential agriculture training to ten veterans with the goal of preparing them to launch careers in small- scale agriculture. The course will feature a blend of classroom lectures, field trips and a hands- on field component. In the field component, the class cohort will be guided through planting and co-managing a one-acre mini- farm at SOREC to help build and develop their practical farm skills with the resulting produce being donated to a local food bank. As many new farmers are starting farm businesses with a focus on annual vegetable production and direct marketing, the mini- farm will be based on this model and grow a diverse set of organic vegetables and herbs. Participants will engage in all aspects of the production from field preparation and planting through harvest.
The classroom component will contain fifteen units including five units on small farm business management and ten units on crop production and field management. Topics range from farm business planning, direct marketing and land access to plant propagation, irrigation and soil management. In addition to the classroom lectures and discussions, participants will also visit five farms in the region to view how each farm uniquely addresses issues such as infrastructure development, labor and markets.
To support the statewide development of resources for veteran farmers, the project will organize a meeting for both farmer and rancher veterans and veteran service providers at the Oregon State Small Farms Conference in February with a goal of greater coordination between farmer veteran efforts statewide. Later in the season, another meeting will be convened to share experiences and present best management practices gleaned from the GVA pilot program. OSU Small Farms hopes to coordinate and enhance services to veterans interested in farming through all of these efforts.