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Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs and Dept. of Agriculture honor veterans at PA Farm Show
Harrisburg, January 13, 2017-- “Honoring Veterans, Military Personnel, and their Families: Lifting Up Farmer Veterans” was the theme of Thursday’s celebration in Harrisburg at the PA Farm Show. GEN (Ret) Eric Weller, Dep. Adjutant General of Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding hosted a forum in the morning for an audience of veterans, veteran service organization representatives, and officials from throughout the Commonwealth.
Keynote speaker and U.S. Army veteran James Metcalf, who currently serves as the Director of the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, and grew up on a dairy farm, noted the similarities between a life lived in the military and life on the farm, and encouraged veterans to see agriculture as a viable business to feed their families. “What ties us is our sense of service—feeding people is an honorable thing to do.” Metcalf also noted that for those who have seen conflict and war, farming can be therapeutic. He and his family currently farm an organic livestock operation in New York, just over the state line from Bradford, PA.
To an audience member’s question as to why veteran farmers seem to gravitate toward organic farming, Metcalf shared that the call to be good stewards and use farming practices that nurture, rather than rob the soil of nutrients, common to organic farming appeals to those who lead lives of service. From a pragmatic standpoint, organic produce and meat also command a premium price in the marketplace.
Rodale Institute was highlighted during the meeting for its veterans organic program. Students at Rodale can select a variety of short courses in topics from beef to fruits/vegetables to beekeeping in order to determine which discipline strikes the strongest chord; following the on-site rotations they complete internships at farms in the region. Rodale Institute’s flexible program not only covers tuition for veterans, but provides housing during the on-site portion and a housing stipend for eligible veterans. Funding from the Newman’s Own foundation supports this program.
In Westmoreland County, Troops to Tractors/SW PA Veteran Farming Project is seeking established farmers and agribusiness operators to mentor veterans entering agriculture. For eligible veterans who don’t wish to obtain a traditional agriculture degree, GI Bill benefits make it possible to work as apprentices to business and farming skills hands-on from experienced and successful farm operators. Veteran apprentices bring maturity and technical skill sets, along with demonstrated adaptability and attention to mission, whether it be in service to their country or to feeding their communities. Veterans or potential farmer mentors can connect with Project staff at www.facebook.com/PAVetsFarm or contact Troops to Tractors’ coordinator at [email protected] .