June 20, 2014
A movement is afoot in the Green Mountain State to connect veterans returning from deployment with farming.
The Vermont Center for Independent Living and Vermont AgrAbility sponsored the first Vermont Farmer Veteran Forum on June 11 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in White River Junction.
This workshop was created to organize veteran farming initiatives around the state and to officially welcome the Farmer Veteran Coalition to Vermont. The effort is focused on offering veterans, including those with disabilities, agricultural opportunities with therapeutic programs at various farms throughout Vermont. Many are already interested as this represents a growing movement nationally in which increasing numbers of veterans returning from deployment find healing through agriculture.
The event was well attended by veterans with active plans for veteran farms, and multiple organizations that provide support and service to veterans. All parties present shared interest and were enthusiastic about the prospect of organizing veteran farms. The key speaker of the event was Dr. Michele Pfannenstiel, who fulfills several roles with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, including serving as Northeast development coordinator and president of the Maine chapter. Her presentation highlighted the structure of FVC chapters and detailed the steps to getting started.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition, formed in 2008, is headquartered in Davis, Calif., and is the leading national advocacy organization with the specific mission of helping veterans to farm. The FVC offers a well-developed support system for guiding veteran farms with agricultural expertise, business planning and even legal counseling. The FVC shares a “partnering” relationship with the National AgrAbility Project out of Purdue University, which works closely with Vermont AgrAbility to support farmers with disabilities. Veteran farmers and leaders of veteran farm initiatives in the audience responded positively to the presentation with comments and questions about FVC, and shared stories of their own programs.
Participants of the forum included representatives from U.S. senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders’ offices, the Veterans Administration, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration, Vermont Vet to Vet, UVM Extension, VocRehab Vermont, Lyndon State College/Northeast Kingdom Veterans Summit, the Vermont Department of Labor, the United Way of Lamoille County, the RSVP and the Volunteer Center of Lamoille Valley and many other entities.
Veterans or farmers, including those with disabilities, or other interested folks who wish to inquire about the veteran farmer initiative may contact Tom Younkman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kenny Smith at email@example.com, or call VCIL at 1-800-639-1522.