MASTER GARDENER: Partnering veterans with farmers a natural idea

Former Veteran 2Recently I ran across an article in an organic gardening magazine that at first seemed very much out of place there, but after a while I came to believe could not be more natural. It pertained to two groups that are close to my heart: our veterans and our farmers.

The article brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face at the same time. Since then, I have done a bit of reading and wanted to very briefly share the concept with you in bullet form.

• Shortage of farmers. Only 1 percent of Americans grow the food that we eat, and half of them are “baby boomers.” In 2012, the USDA suggested that we’d need 100,000 new farmers in the next 10 years to fill the coming gap. Estimates from others are much higher.

• Need for “slow food.” It should not be just for the rich and famous. An unhealthy diet is the major contributor to the major chronic diseases in this country.

• Backfill possibility. Even as our older farmers come to retirement age, there is still a need for their land to be planted, tended and harvested. Many want to grow old on their land, and now there is a growing movement to allow them to do just that. One group of adults is becoming increasingly enthusiastic about learning to farm: our veterans.

Both farmers and veterans have the same skill sets: They have learned to endure long hours and physical duress, they have learned strategic planning and risk assessment and they have had to make do with very little to survive. Veterans have a strong work ethic; they need the farmers as mentors now – someone who will take the time to show them what and how things need to be done.

Several social action groups exist online to increase resources for veterans working to create new lives for themselves and food security for their communities. Maybe something locally could be modeled after one of them.

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Tina Betts, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.

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