Veterans explore farming as possible career in OSU Extension Small Farms online programs

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two Oregon State University Extension Service programs are available online this fall to give farming information and skills to veterans who may be looking for a career after their stint in the military.

Veterans often arrive home with no idea what to do next, said Teagan Moran, OSU Extension Small Farms program assistant in the Willamette Valley. Farming may be the right fit.

“Many farmers would say they have passion and a sense of purpose,” she said. “They believe in what they’re doing for family and community. Veterans can relate to that. They can leverage their skills and rediscover who they are out of the military. There is viable employment in farming. And vets are very well suited to it.”

Last year, Moran coordinated the in-person workshop, Exploring the Small Farm Dream – For Veterans. The program, co-sponsored by Benton County Veteran Affairs, aims to help vets for a variety of reasons, Moran said. Some are just getting started and looking at how to expand. Others may be in the hobby realm and want to go pro. Then there are those who are total beginners, who could explore whether farming is the right fit.

All of the Small Farms programing was forced online after the pandemic arrived. The Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point started a course eight years ago as a beginning farming course that morphed into a program geared to vets two years ago, according Maud Powell, associate professor of practice in OSU Extension Small Farms. Until COVID-19, Growing Agripreneurs gave people the opportunity to have extensive field experience working on OSU Extension’s 1-acre Franklin Teaching Farm, as well as by touring other farming operations.

Online teaching is challenging for a subject that is so hands-on, said Powell, who heads up Growing Agripreneurs in partnership with the nonprofit Rogue Farm Corps. Where former participants got to have onsite experiences, Powell now does one half-day site visit with students.

“Training with in-person consultations gives people confidence and helps answer their specific questions and see what it would take to start a farm business,” Powell said. “The people who did take advantage raved about the on-site visits. People were able to get customized information.”

Online learning also has its advantages. Teaching via webinar allows more people so Powell opened the course to the general public again this year. With COVID’s restrictions people are more interested in growing things, so there was response from both veterans and non-veterans. Powell purposefully added a lot of time for discussion and questions and answers. The season-long, weekly course set 16 people on track to a possible new career.

That’s a good thing for the industry, Moran said. Farmers are getting older and family members in the next generation aren’t interested in farming.

“The average age of a farmer is 60,” she said. “There aren’t enough farmers to fill their shoes and as a result, farmland is transitioning to other uses. There’s a huge need for farmers. There’s a population of millions of vets that have the skills that are complementary and they need satisfying, meaningful employment after returning from service. Vets can be so suited for the farm – they know about working long hours, being outdoors in all weather and they have a lot of drive. They can easily transfer their skills to the mission of producing food.”

Moran has started Oregon Veteran Farmers email Listserv for vets interested in farming. The Listserv enables veterans who are already farming or want to farm to connect with one other. Her goal is to bring veterans together so they can network. She sends out information about benefits available to vets like discounts, grants, loans and information about further trainings. People who want to join the list can email Moran at [email protected].

“We’re always looking for ways to best support veterans and serve as an entry point and as a clearinghouse of resources,” Moran said. “All of this work to support vets also supports our community in building a resilient food system. It’s a great example of how food systems have the power to heal and support our community, not just with food but with livelihoods and shared meaningful purpose.”

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