From Kevlar to kale: Armed to Farm gives veterans seeds of opportunity
By William Holt Sentinel Staff Apr 15, 2018
Armed to Farm, a national initiative that provides training in sustainable agriculture to military veterans free of charge, is coming to Troy this summer.
The program, which will be held at The Inn at East Hill Farm from June 11 to June 15, is hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, a Montana-based nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainability and natural resource protection. It is open to military veterans living in the Northeast who are interested in starting a farm or have been farming less than 10 years.
According to Daniel E. Prial, community food and outreach specialist for the center’s Northeast regional office in Keene, Armed to Farm will combine classroom sessions with farm tours and hands-on activities intended to convey the basic principles of operating a sustainable farming enterprise.
“There are plenty of therapy farms out there,” Prial said. “Armed to Farm is not one of those. It’s data-driven, assistance-based. We bring in our specialists, extension specialists and partners based off of where that event is.”
Classroom sessions will cover myriad aspects of running a modern farm, from budgeting and record keeping to livestock and vegetable production. Past projects at Armed to Farm trainings include the construction of fences and hoop houses, simple greenhouse-like structures designed to extend the growing season by several weeks.
Armed to Farm Coordinator Robyn Metzger works at the center’s Southeast regional office in Fayetteville, Ark., and has been involved with the program since its inception. She sees the program as a response to needs in both the veteran and farming communities.
“A large portion of veterans are from rural areas, and there’s a shortage of farmers in these places,” Metzger explained.
“Veterans are hard-working; they’re used to challenges. A lot of them don’t have the desire to work an office job,” she said. “They like being outside; they like being their own boss. Farmers are aging, and we need to replace those farmers with people who are looking for challenges and want to feed their communities.”
According to Metzger, Armed to Farm began in 2010 as a series of three-day workshops in partnership with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Davis, Calif. The first week-long Armed to Farm training was held in Fayetteville in 2013.
“We always have lots of interest,” Metzger said. “We’re hearing from veterans constantly who are looking for information, who have an interest in going through the program or just finding help to get started. We generally have twice as many apply as we have spots available.”
While the program was initially intended to meet the needs of soldiers returning from deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, Armed to Farm sessions have drawn veterans of all ages.
“There are a lot of folks who are looking for their second career, so we’ve had a few Vietnam vets,” Metzger said. “We’ve had Desert Storm vets, a lot of them who have been in the military for 20 years or more.”
Last year, the National Center for Appropriate Technology reached 105 participants with four Armed to Farm events, including one in Bangor, Maine. The New Hampshire session will be one of four trainings held this year, with other programs in California and Montana and a special urban farming initiative in Washington, D.C.
The Troy event may include participants from as far away as Ohio and West Virginia, said Prial, but will have a distinctively local flavor.
“Because we’re bringing in local farmers, the information is going to be hyper-local,” Prial said. “We’re going to be bringing in New Hampshire-focused, Monadnock Region-focused perspectives.”
Funded by part of a $289,600 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the program accommodates about 30 participants per session. While farmers must pay their own travel costs to and from the event, lodging and most meals will be provided. Farming partners and spouses are also invited to apply.
“It’s important to us that it’s the decision makers for the farm,” Prial said. “It’s a business, and it’s a lifestyle.”
The application for Armed to Farm can be found at www.ncat.org/armedtofarm. The deadline to apply is April 27; selected participants will be notified by May 4.
William Holt can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or firstname.lastname@example.org.