Cleveland high tunnel

NCAT Programs Help Service Members Succeed in Agriculture

By Margo Hale, Southeast Regional Director and Livestock Specialist 

Do you know what 11% of U.S. producers have in common? It’s not that they grow tomatoes or sell at farmers markets—it’s that they have served or are serving in the military. And do you know who offers training and networking opportunities specifically for military veterans interested in sustainable farming operations? NCAT does! NCAT has a long history of educating new and beginning farmers on sustainable production, financial management, marketing options, and other agricultural and risk management topics, and we recognized the need to provide this education specifically to veterans. 

checking out the eggmobile

Terrell Spencer leads a tour of his pastured poultry operation, Across the Creek Farm, during an Armed to Farm training in Fayetteville, AR. Photo: NCAT

In 2010, through a series of workshops and events, NCAT began targeted outreach and training for military veterans interested in farming. In 2011, the Farmer Veteran Coalition partnered with NCAT to host a series of two-day workshops in four states. These workshops were called “Armed to Farm,” and we recognized there was something special about bringing together a group of veterans. During this time, Army veteran and beginning farmer Terrell Spencer was working at NCAT as an agriculture specialist. He understood the challenges of transitioning out of the military and trying to start a farm, and he knew there were many other veterans interested in farming. He believed veterans interested in starting and running sustainable farming enterprises would benefit from an intensive “farming boot camp” training, and in 2013 we developed the weeklong Armed to Farm training. Armed to Farm consists of classroom sessions on subjects such as USDA programs, goal setting, business planning, recordkeeping, marketing, and various production topics. The training also features farm tours and hands-on activities at a variety of successful farms. 

Since that first Armed to Farm training, we have held 25 weeklong events and one virtual training. More than 800 military veterans and spouses/farm partners from 45 states have participated in Armed to Farm. We have expanded the training opportunities available and Armed to Farm now offers three training series:  

  • Flagship, weeklong hands-on and classroom training for new farmer veterans  
  • Armed to Urban Farm focuses on veterans who are new farmers in urban areas  
  • Armed to Farm 2.0 is advanced sustainable agriculture training designed for farmer veterans who have completed a previous weeklong session. It provides in-depth curriculum and hands-on activities tailored to participants’ needs.  

Farmer veterans who attend one of the training series make connections with their peers and other farmers that increase their ability to succeed. They have access to individualized technical assistance, one-on-one consultations, in-person networking events, and virtual learning opportunities through NCAT. 

Cleveland high tunnel

An Armed to Urban Farm participant gets hands-on experience in a high tunnel in Cleveland, OH. Photo: NCAT

The demand for training remains high from veterans interested in starting farms, and we are working hard to meet that demand. We have more than 20 Armed to Farm events planned over the next three years. We will continue to provide in-person and virtual networking opportunities, educational resources, and personalized technical assistance through ATTRA.  

If you are interested in learning more about Armed to Farm, visit our new website. There you will find information about upcoming Armed to Farm trainings, an event calendar, news, resources, and ways to connect to NCAT and other farmer veterans. We encourage you to sign-up for Armed to Farm news, join the Veterans in Ag Listserv, and like Armed to Farm on Facebook. If you are a veteran interested in pursuing agriculture, please reach out. We are here to connect you to resources, answer your questions about getting started in farming, and support you as you work towards your farm goals.  

Resources:

ATTRA Veteran Resources 

Armed to Farm: Supporting Farmer Veterans 

Forty Years Later, Mr. Burch is Back on the Farm  

Veterans Discuss USDA Programs 

Veteran Tells Dusty Hound Story 

Veteran Helps Veterans Learn to Farm 

From “Shovel and Rototiller” to Conservation Champ 

Camaraderie at Armed to Farm 

This blog is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.