A lifetime of changes can happen over the course of one calendar, just ask Adam Burke, a Purple Heart recipient and founder/CEO of Veterans Farm. The local organization helps veterans transition back into society through sustainable agriculture. Through their New Beginning Fellowship Program, veterans are given the opportunity to work in teams, develop solutions and overcome mental and physical barriers. For Veterans Farm, change is happening year-round, both in farm and in lives.
This time last year, the local not-for-profit organization spanned almost 20 acres of farmland and offered six-month programs to only a handful of veterans at a time. “In 2015 [we] will be offering 20 more fellowships,” Burke explained.
In addition to these fellowships, Veterans Farm will also offer 45 educational scholarships to help active-duty, veterans and military spouses start up their own sustainable farm. In only 12 months, Veterans Farm has increased their outreach to assisting over 500 veterans per year.
“We were selected as one of the top New Beginning Farmer/Rancher training programs in the country,” Burke said of the recent increase.
The award included a grant from the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This is a tremendous leap for the organization, whose funding last year was still at a minimum.
As a result, Veterans Farm expanded its offerings into five levels. The first three include workshop training, case management, mentorship and guidance. Level 4 is a four-week introductory training to agriculture.
“During this time [they] have the opportunity to learn about the different areas of agriculture,” Burke said. “This helps them discover which area fits best with them.”
The very last tier, Level 5, combines all offerings from the other levels plus the intensive three-month training fellowship. Interested veterans are simply asked to submit an application and their information is used to determine a more individualized program.
In addition to these changes, Veterans Farms will also host five training workshops during the course of the year. These workshops are designed to help new farmers with starting or increasing the size of a farm. Top agricultural experts from the USDA and other agencies will be on hand to discuss resources and funding. An upcoming workshop is scheduled for May 16.
“This is a really important event,” Burke said. “We’ll be providing information on free funding opportunities.”
Changing lives is not the only goal Veterans Farm accomplishes. Another important product of their program is filling the gap between farmers retiring and new ones entering the field. Statistics show that the ratio of farmers leaving to those entering is 4:1. This average is alarmingly low. The programs at Veterans Farm hope to solve this issue by equipping veterans with proper training and resources to start their own farm or to enter larger agricultural organizations. As a result, veterans are well-prepared to reintegrate into society, while also qualified to enter the agricultural industry.