Veterans in AG / Horticulture

February 19, 2021

Video Transcript

- Today's session is Veterans in Agriculture and Horticulture. Before I start with the presentation, I just wanna remind you that MSU is an affirmative action equal opportunity employer with Michigan State University programming being available to all without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation marital status, family status, or veteran status, which is particularly relevant for us right now. So let's take a look. All right. Before I get started, since we have such a small audience, this is particularly easy to do. You can unmute yourself and I'm just curious to see, who do we have in the audience? Do we have any other veterans? Anybody that's on active duty that might've heard about this opportunity that was curious? What relationship does you have to veterans? - [Scott] Yeah, this is Scott. I'm retired army from 2018 and live in Traverse City. - Awesome, Scott. Anybody else? Don't be shy. In any event, this presentation I designed for the following audience: Anybody who's in active duty interested in getting into agriculture after they get out, veterans obviously who've already separated and are maybe looking for resources, family, may be any surviving family of veterans. These programs are often also available to you. So just because the program itself is built as the veterans such-and-such, keep in mind that if you or if anybody you know is surviving dependent or living dependent veterans you often qualify for these programs as well. If you work as... - Thank you Chris. - If you work as veterans support staff for any local agency, these are really good resources to keep in your back pocket, to share with your constituents. If you're a current farmer and you're interested in expanding your labor force to include veterans, this is also gonna be a good presentation for you. So, who are we talking about when we talk about veterans in Southwest Michigan. At the last formal survey, we found about 49,000 veterans, self identifying veterans in the seven counties that make up our district of Southwest Michigan for extension. When we did the survey, however, we did not account for family sizes. And the average family size for veterans is about 2.5 people. So we're looking at over 100,000 people that are veterans themselves or that are directly related to them. Typically, our veteran population is gonna be 58 years or older, married and male. Although we're seeing kind of this steady, slow decline of our veteran population, this decline is totally dependent on international conflict. I'll expand this graph in a second, but as we'll see later, veteran populations surge in their number following the resolution of international conflict. So as wars end, as we pare down the size of our military we can expect a lot of people coming home, trying to transition back into civilian life. We know that by 2045 the average age of our veterans is gonna decrease rapidly. And that's gonna change the needs. And that's gonna change the services that are based on those needs in the next couple of decades. And lastly, something important to keep in mind is that our veteran population, a significant portion is gonna have some kind of service-connected disability and also be under VA care, 37% of the veteran population. And then this graph just illustrates a point I was making earlier about how you can see between the 1940s and the 1980s, we have a surge in veteran population. As you can guess, that's from veterans coming home from armed conflict. My full role with MSU extension is as a veteran horticulture educator, but I'm part of a larger group of people. The MSU extension veteran outreach team. And gonna get my little laser tool here. So that way maybe you can see it. Spotlight. That's me over there smiling again. I work under Adam Ingrao. Adam Ingrao coordinates much of the veteran programming within Michigan as a state. And I also work with colleagues that do outreach and education for SNAP benefits, mental health, emotional welfare as well as some other agricultural programs that I will mention when we get to that part of the presentation. Here's just an overview of some of the functions that we carry out. You can find more information about MSU veteran outreach at our website, I'm gonna put all these links in the chat at the end so you don't have to worry about screenshotting or trying to write these down. So why is it so important that we're even talking about veterans in agriculture right now? What makes this profession and its relationship to veterans so important? Well, for starters, we are experiencing a severe national shortage of farmers, ranchers, animal caretakers and people who work at the plant sciences. And veterans represent a really valuable pool of labor for a lot of reasons. They through a very intense screening process. They have at least four years of showing up and working at a professional workplace. There are things that we can assume about a veteran employee that we can't assume about others. For example, they've undergone a federal background check. They've undergone vetting from the U.S. government. They've often worked in multicultural teams. They've been both followers and leaders. The standard amount of money that is spent on training the average soldier, just to get them through bootcamp is upwards of 25 to $30,000. That's not to mention this other point here, throughout the four to six years, that you have a military service member on active duty, 'cause four to six years is the average time, they're gonna have access to $4,500 annually for their education expenses. And it's very common for people to take advantage of that program. A lot of military service members opt to take classes in business and leadership and those skills transfer to the agriculture and horticulture fields very readily. I'm gonna abbreviate that from now on just as the ag./hort. field. There's also federal incentives to hiring veterans. There are millions of dollars in funding for education, training equipment and operating expenses. And those processes are competitive because it brings a lot of value to the state that ends up holding the back. You can learn more about why support for veterans transitioning into farming has increased so much with this article here. Again, I'm gonna include all these links in the chat at the end. So you don't have to write these down. It's important to know that it's not just valuable for the state or the county to attract veteran labor into Ag/Hort industries. It's also important to the veteran themselves. There's a lot of different motivation for why veterans choose an agricultural career. Some people appreciate the fact that they continue using their technical skillset. A lot of Ag/hort careers involve some kind of mechanization. And a lot of careers in the military involves some sort of mechanical, electronic, hydraulic or plumbing training. So the skills transfer over pretty well. The work is hands-on right, which a lot of veterans report they appreciate. There's a lot of therapeutic benefits that come with working with animals, working with plants. And we have got a really good evidence-based foundation for understanding, for quantifying those therapeutic benefits. Veterans often come from rural areas which increases the likelihood that they already have a background in farming. So for many of them turning to the farm is a more comfortable transition back into civilian life. The thing that I really, really wanna highlight here, however... And I'm gonna get my spotlight back. Can I get my spotlight back? Is this last point that I've got right here. A new way to serve. One of the biggest challenges that veterans face when leaving the service without a clear transition plan for education or employment, is what we generally refer to as the existential vacuum. It's the movement of an individual from a highly regimented, highly orderly environment, that there is a clear mission, there's a clear purpose to their work, they can often see the outcome of their work, into a more relaxed environment, which is the transition back into civilian life. And a lot of people find that transition to be a little bit disorienting. Work in agriculture and work in ag./hort, a lot of veterans find to be very fulfilling because it gives them a new mission. It gives them a way to see the fruits of their labor in a more direct way. I've got this quote down here from L.L. Fleming. She's a researcher for a veteran mental health. And she says an excerpt from her work, "Veterans' programs that use farming in rehabilitation, vocational training and career redirection addressed some of the challenges of transitioning into civilian life." Her work veteran to farmer programs and emerging nature-based programming trends is available for free. Again, I'm gonna put that in the link in the chat. So again, these are just some of the reasons why it's so important from the veteran perspective to support the entry of them into the ag./hort career. And to summarize, maybe you're familiar with the saying, but, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. So, as we anticipate a higher veteran population, a higher movement from the military to the civilian sector, we need to anticipate what are the challenges that people are gonna be facing as they attempt to make their move into the ag./hort. industry. And I've outlined a couple of those here. Vocational training, start-up financing which is composed of equipment, land, operating capital, struggles with marketing and branding and mobility and accessibility, which I've illustrated here. This is a recipient of an AgrAbility agriculture grant and he is used his grant money to have a modified wheelchair so he can scout his fields. He's inspecting these corn. If you are a corn farmer, you can speculate for me what stage this corn is at. R2, R3 or something like that. Today, I really wanna focus on this first aspect, the vocational training. My role as an extension agent is as an educator. And so it's important for me that if a veteran comes to me and they have a loose plan about what they wanna do for their career, that I am giving them the tools and the resources to develop a more fine tuned plan for how they're gonna develop the fundamental skills that they need before they can enter this industry. - Chris, I have a question before you get off that last slide. - Sure. - Are there any programs available for ag. employers to hire veterans such as equipment and get them on the assisted wheelchair like you're showing in the slide here. - Absolutely. I'm gonna put the name of that organization in the chat. It's called AgrAbility. And they do grants. They also work closely with.. Doing the chat too, Wounded Warriors and DAV. These are the big three organizations that you can contact. And Argentinos says as a veteran too. Yes, that's an excellent point. Lots of readiness and employment programs. The Michigan Veteran Affairs Association, MVAA, they also have a dedicated point of contact for education and training that you can reach out to. I'm gonna put that name in the chat right now, MVAA. And they can help with improving your accessibility. If you are breaking into a new career field, they have counseling services that help you develop your own educational programs. So lots of resources here. Again, I'm gonna repost these all in the chat at the end. But the big ones are AgrAbility, Wounded Warriors and DAV. Lots of grant opportunities there. So, let's say we have a veteran and we are trying to assist this person, or you yourself are a veteran and you are trying to come up with a plan for how you're gonna receive training, because you really want a career as a farmer, as a horticulturalist, as a landscaper, what are you gonna do? All right. These training opportunities come from about five different main sources. Universities, extension programs that are associated with universities, the land grant ones anyway, nonprofit organizations, veteran friendly companies and government agencies like MVA that I just mentioned. I'm gonna include more in this presentation though. The topics of training range from fundamentals of biology. Doesn't matter if you work with animals or with plants. At some point, you're gonna wanna have some fundamental biology in your toolkit to understand why things are going on and what are the underlying concepts. Production practices, both plant and animal care, business management and marketing techniques. So you know how to get the best prices for your product, how to improve the inherent value and what are the programs that you can access as a veteran specifically, to reach audiences that are interested in purchasing veteran produced items. Jean mentioned this is a Michigan rehabilitation services. Yep. Correct. Every county has their own. Yes. That's that's another good plug. Every single county is gonna have their own veteran outreach specialist. So if you get a hold of your counties local government, they usually have a veteran representative. I think there are only two counties in Michigan that don't have one. All right. So in terms of university education, if you're a veteran, you already know that you have access to certain educational benefits. If you're working with veterans or you've never worked with veterans before, the programs that you need to be aware of, are chapter 33 and chapter 30 GI bills, respectively post 9/11, and MGIB. The benefits are very similar but they are eligible for different programs. MGIB is usually more universal. There are a lot more things that you can do with MGIB GI bill. Whereas the post 9/11 bill is more geared towards a traditional four year degree. Can also be used for two year degree. The Yellow Ribbon Program is something that you also need to need to be aware of. A lot of veterans aren't even familiar with this program. If your education expenses exceed the in-state limits, for what the post 9/11 or the MGIB cover, the Yellow Ribbon Program will help cover some of those additional costs. MSU is an active participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program. I've used MSU as an example here, but there are multiple institutions throughout the state that have agriculture related programs. So Western, for example, here in Kalamazoo has one. And even if you are attending another university, if you are participating in this program here, Institute Ag Tech, they do a two year AA and they have a certificate program. Any of the education that you accomplish under IAT, is gonna be transferable to a four year MSU degree. So if you're just trying to get your feet wet, and you don't wanna make a huge commitment for a four year degree, I highly encourage you to check out these AA and certificate programs. And the advisors for these programs will be able to give you more information about what classes carry over, but certificate programs often have a very strong emphasis on the specific skills for agriculture because you're not taking a lot of the soft classes like English and chemistry and things like that. Not that those aren't valuable, but for your money's worth, you're getting a lot more done with the certificate program. If you've got the time and the ambition, the resources to do a bachelor of science program with MSU, they have over, I think, eight pages, the college of agricultural natural resources, of different degree programs. There's four main ones that are gonna be most appealing are the agribusiness, animal science, horticulture and landscape architecture classes. And you can find the curriculum, you can find the learning objectives for these programs on the MSU website. They'll have a course catalog and that'll give you an understanding of what you can expect from these classes and how those learning objectives fit in with your plan. 'Cause you always want to make sure that any of the educational resources or any of the educational training that you're pursuing is going to support your plan for your entry into ag/hort. In terms of non-profit programs, MSU Extension has a fantastic beekeeping training program. It's run by Adam Ingrao, the individual I mentioned earlier. Adam runs the largest online hands-on, free certificate program for beekeeping in the entire United States. Absolutely free you, you leave with a certificate, you can do only the hands-on portion, only the online portion or both. It's one of the best agriculture related veteran training programs in the United States. And you can learn more about it at - And Ron, I just wanna do a time check and make sure that we're still tracking. What we have? - You have 20 minutes yet, but I don't know how far along you are into your presentation. - No problem. Remember this presentation is gonna be available to view later on as a recording. We're gonna make it available within a few weeks. So another MSU affiliated program that you should be aware of, is the MSU organic farmer training. This is accomplished on the MSU student organic farm. It is a fee-based program. The good news is it's available for funding. In some cases, you need to check with the program officials through the chapter 33, chapter 30 and chapter 31 GI bills. I've mentioned chapter 33 and chapter 30. Chapter 31 is the rehabilitation version of the GI bill benefits. Now, this program runs from March 15th, March to November 15th. And it's been approved for in-person instruction in 2021. This is a lot of hands-on training. They do a little bit of classroom training. People report that the training has been very effective in getting them the foundational skills that they need to get into small scale organic production. As a option for first time veteran farmers, I think it's an excellent one. There's a really good added value proposition for organic production. And when you add a veteran producer or a veteran farmer label to that, it's a highly incentivized products for consumers. You can get more information from them either by visiting their website here or emailing them at So those are just two MSU affiliated programs. I wanna talk about something that is available at a state. The reason I mentioned it, is because even though you have to relocate temporarily, it is a highly regarded program throughout the United States. And that's the Chicago Botanic Garden, veteran internship program. I didn't put the name on there, but that's what it's called. It's a paid program. It's up to 12 weeks. I believe the starting pay is $15. And they do have ways of assisting you in finding housing There's an upcoming cohort. If you're interested, they still have slots. It's available for registration up to March 14th. They do a really wide variety of internships. Everything from this individual here is watering bond site plants. They have internships in accounting. Everything that goes into the operation of the Chicago Botanic Garden. They're gonna have an internship for it. And where they don't have internship opportunities, they usually are willing to develop new ones. A part of that internship program that I think is really important, isn't just the hands-on experience that you get from watering and dealing with onsite, it's also a career development program. So they teach you things about developing your resume, writing a cover letter, interview skills, things like that. So if you are transitioning back into the civilian world and you want more experience with those soft skills for your career development, this is a fantastic program to do that. In terms of nationwide opportunities, the one organization that I really wanna highlight is the Veteran Farmer Coalition, the FTC. They just celebrated their 12th, 10th or 12th birthday very recently. This organization probably does more of all the nonprofits to support farmers and ranchers who are veterans than anything else. It worked very closely and cooperatively with Wounded Warriors, with the Disabled Veterans of America, with the American Legion. They have a super robust grant program that distributed $3 million to 600 veteran farmers since 2011. The beauty of this organization is that their grants, about $5,000 grants, you can use them for educational opportunities. So if you are, for example, interning somewhere else and you need some supplemental income, and you have a business plan in the works for how you wanna start your own. You're gonna start a dragon fruit greenhouse or something like that. You wanna grow microgreens. Farmer Veteran Coalition will not only fund and help you finance the beginning of your business, they will also help you finance your education. Once your business is up and running and you have a viable product, they'll go even further and support you by putting you on their Homegrown by Heroes label. This is a label that lets consumers know that this product was produced by a veteran or a veteran family, for example. And the mark-up on this, I believe, the premium is as much as 15%. So you're getting a 15% higher price for your product just because you've worked with FTC and you have this label on there. In addition to the grant program, the Homegrown by Heroes label, they also have a fantastic mentorship program and they have accumulated a lot of educational resources to help farmers and help people transition to farming. Another great resource that you really wanna keep your eye out for, is veteran friendly companies. If you are not looking for a university program or a certificate program or anything that like a formal education opportunity, an internship or an apprentice might be a better route for you, apprenticeship. Companies like John Deere, which I'm highlighting here, often have a military to private sector training program. John Deere has one. I think New Holland has one and Kubota supports these kinds of activities. Now John Deere's program is called the career skills program and it is DOD skill bridge qualified. If you're not familiar with DOD skill bridge, this is the department of defense's effort to take all the skills that you've acquired in the military and translate them into the civilian vernacular. So that potential employers understand that I'm from the Air Force. I was at 2T3-51. That means nothing to a civilian employer, but through the DOD skills bridge program, that potential employer, that HR person knows that I was a mechanic and I have skills in electrical repair engine problem diagnosis and they use their skillset to translate my skillset for this potential employer. And John Deere has incorporated into their program. It's a combination of web based trainings, as well as local internships with dealerships. You have to be inactive to duty transitioning to civilian life to be eligible for this program. So if you're already out, you might not be able to apply. I'm gonna say you're not able to apply. But, if you know an active duty individual who has plans to leave, has plans to separate, I would highly recommend that you make them aware of this program. Starting salary and compensation pack package for working with companies like Kubota and John Deere New Holland, are very attractive. They're very good starting salaries. I'm gonna include a link at the end here that has the tri-fold for their career pipeline program. - So again, keep an eye out for veteran friendly companies. Take a look, see if they have an apprenticeship or internship program like John Deere does with its local veterans. I'm gonna talk about the last source, the government agencies. There's no pictures here, cause there's just way too many government agencies that have a toe in the waters of veteran agriculture. I've listed some of them here. I mentioned earlier, the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency. They have dedicated staff that provide counseling and consultation services for people who are trying to develop a plan to transition a (indistinct) The USDA oversees almost all of the United States's federally funded veteran agriculture programs. Some of them I've included here, the BFRDP the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. They have funding put aside for beginning farmers and ranchers who are veterans. It's part of their underserved audience program. The USDA has its own dedicated liaison, Bill Ashton. I've included his information here. And Bill provides the kind of services that I do at the federal level. So he's another good resource to connect with and to contact if you are, if anyone you know is trying to break into agriculture. The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovations, that some really new emerging programming. When we talk about agriculture and horticulture, in traditional sense, we think of somebody in a field, driving a tractor or may be working with animals, livestock. We have expanded that definition to include up to people operating under one acre micro farms in the cities, people who operate greenhouses that are attached to their homes. It's just a very well expanded definition of agriculture. So if you find that you have a plan for something that maybe doesn't fit under the traditional umbrella of ag/hort, the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovation might be the next place for you to visit. And then of course the Farm Service Agency. If you're unfamiliar with them, they handle a lot of the financial assistance programs that farmers use not only to get their operations started, but to expand and to gain resources for operating capital to weather difficult times. I imagine a lot of veteran farmers in Texas are probably ringing up FSA at the moment. And then the last thing I'll plug here is that the sustainable agriculture and research education functions through NCRS. This organization delivers a lot of grant funding for agricultural programs, for agricultural businesses. And they are especially attracted to veteran farmers. So if you have a business that you think would be a conducive platform for a little bit of research in terms of human health, nutrition, and things like that, NCRS, SARE, S-A-R-E, is gonna be an organization that you're gonna want to work with closely. And I've included this little video here. Let me make sure we have time before I show it. What is our time at? 1:36. - You have 10 minutes, Chris. So we're gonna pop this open. - [Narrator] Thousands of U.S. citizens leave the armed forces each year and many of them are seeking new career opportunities. The United States Department of Agriculture is stepping up to help. - Farming agriculture is a lifestyle just like military is lifestyle. - [Narrator] There are multiple programs that assist beginning farmers and ranchers, not only getting started but to grow and thrive, manage the risk and help build critical stewardship of their resources. There's both a huge need and a huge opportunity for the next generation of farmers and ranchers to come and be a part of growing the future. Veterans in particular have the skill set and work ethic that is directly at the heart of what it takes to make a good farmer or rancher. Farmers like Navy veteran, Lenny Miles Jr., carry the responsibility for growing food, which he does on his family farm with his father and grandfather. If you're interested in owning or operating a farm, Lenny has this to say. - It's endless possibilities where you could go as a career in agriculture or farming and you just feel responsible to present good products for consumers and compelled to take care of the land. - [Narrator] Farmers and ranchers understand that the land is a resource to be protected and enhanced. Lenny uses farm loans from USDA Farm Service Agency and participates in the conservation reserve program and the conservation reserve enhancement program to improve wildlife habitat and erosion control. - So with the CRP and the CREP programs we take traditionally unproductive land out of farming production and put into conservation. It's important to be a good steward of land and the irresponsible farmer. - [Narrator] But Lenny isn't alone. Other farmers have taken up the reins as farmers. They come from occupations you wouldn't necessarily expect. Tom and Anita Roberston both served in the army, a combined 34 years in the medical field. Tom worked in private practice for several years before leaving the medical field for a new kind of field. As beginning farmers, the couple then worked on their passionate farming. And not too long after they were operating their own farm. - If you wanna get into farming, the only excuse that you have is yourself because the resources are there. The government, USDA has plenty of resources. - [Narrator] Those resources help farmers with getting started and operating the day to day. But Anita stresses, you have to be ready before you start. - The first thing you wanna do is to have a business plan. You have to have a starting point and know what you want to suit for. - [Narrator] Farmers and ranchers are part of the small business fabric of America. USDA has teamed up with Score, a non-profit resource partner of the small business administration to connect farmers, ranchers and other small business owners with free business mentors. - The small farm outreach program, they have a wonderful beginning farmer and rancher program. They'll take you through all the steps. - [Narrator] Those mentors can help you with your business plan and establish good foundations for your business. There's a place for you in agriculture and USDA is here to be your partner in this exciting new adventure. Some have already answered the call. (plane engine roaring) Come talk to us today. (upbeat music) - So I hope that the main takeaway that you're getting from all of this is that if you have any sort of aspirations or you know of any anybody with any aspirations for the ag./hort. career field, there are really almost infinite resources available to you. The trouble that people find is navigating some of those resources, but we have help in that sense too. Myself and the veteran outreach team, Adam Ingrao, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, we are all able to help guide you through this process. Before I leave, I'd also like to plug something that I think is really important. It speaks to a larger philosophical issue when it comes to veteran support programs. And that's the "Veteran Neighbor" model as I I've termed it. The veteran neighbor model aims to push our perspective of veteran aid programs away from the liability perspective and towards a community resource perspective. And what I mean by that, is that it is impossible to take full advantage of the benefits that a veteran neighbor can offer to their community if we view them as a liability or as a charity case or as something that we are spending and losing money on. Because our veteran communities are things that need to be invested in. And we can realize those returns in a lot of different ways. Veterans tend to form longer term community connections with their local townships and counties. They very often serve on advisory capacities or leadership roles within local government. They're very often experienced multicultural team players. They've been exposed to a lot of different ways of living. And that that exposure allows them to see and to interact with the world in a way that is very valuable. They very often support local governments and local agencies. They make up a larger portion of volunteer forces. And they often bring very successful long-term small businesses to the places that they live. So these are all the reasons why it's important that we as a society adopt the "Veteran Neighbor" model. And that concludes my presentation. I like I promised you earlier, I'm gonna put all those links in the chat. So just go ahead and sit tight. I've included my contact information here,, our website. If we have any questions that I'm unable to get to by 2:00 PM today, please feel free to use our ask and expert system. You can also just Google MSU ask an expert. And I also want to give credit where credit is due. A lot of the content and information in this presentation was developed by Adam Ingrao, Dr.Adam Ingrao of the Heroes to Hives Program.