(By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff)
A program designed to boost the declining number of American farmers while helping veterans gain new skills is kicking off in Stevens County.
The Vets on the Farm program is being spearheaded by Zach Beer of the Stevens County Conservation District. Beer, a veteran from the war in Bosnia, said he is interested in growing a local chapter of the program that has already been established in Spokane County. The Stevens County program holds monthly meetings the first Thursday of the month at 2pm at the Stevens County Conservation district.
“The motivation behind this program was the realization that American needs more farmers and veterans also need to have opportunities to work in fields that suit their needs,” said Beer. “For a lot of vets, after what they have seen and done, spending 10 to 12 hours on a tractor isn’t hard, it can be a relief.”
The Vets on the Farm program works to pair farmers who need help with veterans who are looking for work. The partnership agreements can be anything from an internship to regular employment or a project-focused work agreement. Partnerships can include housing and stipends for veterans and the work projects can also be funded via grant sources to help reduce costs for the farmer. The goal of both the Stevens County and Spokane County programs is to help vets with transitioning while also helping farmers.
“Veterans are ready for a new mission and a way to transition back into civilian life and careers. Our vision is to provide them with opportunities for education, partnership, and employment in conservation based agricultural industries,” the Spokane chapter of Vets on the Farm said on their website, www.sccd.org. “We provide veterans of our community an opportunity to combine their military service and skills with an education in conservation which will lead to farming and agricultural based employment.”
The national need for more Americans to enter into agriculture is telling from recent census data. The 2012 U.S. Agricultural Census data showed that the average age of the American farmer is 58—an age has been steadily increasing over the last 30 years. The lack of farmers is likely also contributing to the declining number of farms, from 2.48 million in the U.S. in 1982 down to 2.11 in 2012. By bringing vets in as new agrarians, Beer said the program hopes to address some of those trends.
“We know that these partnerships can be very beneficial to rural communities who need more people in agriculture and for veterans who can find farming to be a kind of ecotherapy. When you go from the destroyer to the grower, it changes your whole mental state and promotes healing,” said Beer.
Beer, who also works as the Firewise coordinator for Stevens County, said the Stevens County chapter of the program is just getting started and interested farmers and veterans are encouraged to contact the conservation district. For more information call Beer at 685-0937, x118 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org