USDA-supported Program Connects 59 Veterans to Careers in Iowa Agriculture

Veterans continue to learn more about agricultural careers in Iowa

March 8, 2024, 9:00 am | Courtney Long

AMES, Iowa – A three-year project that sought to connect veterans with agricultural careers and food systems recently wrapped up its initiative, connecting 59 veterans to agricultural careers and reaching more than 1,300 veterans with educational programming.

The “Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Program” began in September of 2020, with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Veteran unloading a wagon.Partners included Iowa-based Veterans in Agriculture; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Farm, Food and Enterprise Development program; the Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State; the Iowa Foundation for MicroEnterprise; and Community and Vitality and Ag Ventures Alliance.

Over the course of three years, a group of team leaders worked to hold workshops, webinars and social media campaigns that ultimately reached more than 6,300 people and helped open the doors for veterans seeking farm employment.

Nineteen veterans were assisted with agri-food businesses, 18 prepared financial documents to enter production agriculture, several were linked with farmers looking to transition their operation, and several others received support related to new ventures such as in flower, Christmas tree and forage businesses.

“We were very pleased with the level of participation and career involvement of the veterans we reached,” said Beth Grabau, Iowa Veterans in Agriculture executive director. “We were able to reach a lot of people and develop networks and connections that will continue long after this grant is completed.”

Grabau worked with Courtney Long, program manager for Farm, Food and Enterprise Development with ISU Extension and Outreach, to expose veterans to food systems jobs like diversified farming, processing and value-chain coordination.

“We were excited to be a part of this grant to provide additional concepts for food system development, in particular with veteran farm and food businesses,” said Long.

Grabau also worked with Iowa State’s farm management specialists, who encouraged veterans to watch educational webinars and seek resources from their county veteran service offices.

“The grant program forced me to go out and meet with the county veteran service officers,” said Patrick Hatting, farm management specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “This was a great way to promote the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Beginning Farmer Center. Beth was passionate about leading the grant and was a pleasure to work with.”

Grabau said she was hoping for a stronger turnout with the registered apprenticeship programs that were offered in 2022, but she said the labor market challenges from COVID 19 complicated farmer interest in hiring apprentices.

Nevertheless, she is optimistic about the work that was done and said it helped create a working model for future apprenticeships.

“The work will continue and this grant really helped provide a foundation for that,” she said. “We’re still working with the mentor farms, hoping to have them sign up for the program in the future.”

Major achievements

  • More than 1,300 veterans were reached through the program, with a total of more than 6,350 people reached.
  • Fifty-nine veterans entered production agriculture or a food business as a result of information learned during the program.
  • Nearly 30 workshops were offered and one veteran farm tour was held.
  • Four in-person Local Food Certification workshops were held with a virtual option. Two were local food leader training sessions, and one was a community food system workshop.

Shareable photo: A veteran helping to unload corn.

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