By Maureen McCollum Wisconsin Public Radio
With an abundance of unfilled farm jobs and high unemployment levels for veterans, some federal officials are trying to bring the two worlds together.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the agency wants to step up efforts to help connect veterans to farming jobs in rural communities. The USDA is not only informing veterans about jobs on farms or getting them back to their family farms, but it’s providing loans for new farms.
Vilsack says he sees a lot of potential in beginner veteran farmers growing fruits and vegetables and selling them at farmer’s markets. “It’s not likely that a returning veteran who is not part of a farm family could start in a production sized operation,” he says. “That’s why these local and regional food systems are so important, because it provides an entry point that provides an opportunity for people to grow.”
The USDA also announced that a food labeling program, Homegrown by Heroes, will expand nationwide and help market products produced by veterans.
In Wisconsin, programs that exclusively connect veterans to farming jobs are scarce. Vernon County Veteran’s Services Coordinator Jim Young says the farming industry does have a promising future for more veterans.
“Overall, our unemployment rate for veterans isn’t as high as other parts of the country, but there’s still that unemployment number hanging above our heads in Wisconsin,” says Young. “I think veterans getting into the ag industry and farming could reduce that tremendously.”
Although the USDA and others would like to expand the loan and educational programs to connect more veterans to farming, the future depends on the passage of the long-awaited Farm Bill.