Posted on Tue, March 31, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
4 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming,
Slow Food staffer Deena Goldman recently had the opportunity to chat with Gail Wadsworth, Slow Food chapter leader and new staff member at the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. Gails work is helping to create healthy and viable futures for veterans by offering them resources, tools and mentorships to get them connected to food and farming communities around the country. Read about Gails work in our Q&A.
DG: What is the goal of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition?
GW: There are 2 million veterans returning to the US our goal is to reach 10,000 of those veterans, and to create 10,000 new farmers. That’s only a half of one percent but 10,000 new farmers could really make a big difference!
We are setting up a networks of farmers, and to help our veterans find a place within our food and farming communities. We have a growing list of veterans who want to get into farming and we would like to set up a network of experienced farmers who can serve as their mentors. We think its really important to draw on the current knowledge base of farmers. We are starting with the people we know and creating connections with potential partners to use their networks to outreach. We want to work with people who abide by good, clean and fair values, with an emphasis on the fair.
DG: Where is your work done?
GW: We are headquarted in northern California but we are working all across America. Eventually we want to create a coalition of organizations around the country who will employ a Veterans Outreach Coordinator to do this work around. Were drawing on communities that we wouldnt normally have any contact with why would people in food and farming otherwise be in touch with the Vietnam Veterans of America? But theyve been extremely supportive. Weve tapped into this community that would not normally be tuned in to sustainable agriculture.
DG: What brings veterans to farming how do they find you?
GW: The veterans Ive met are all passionate about working on a farm, but for varied reasons. Some seek healing on farms many are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They see faming as an opportunity to come back. The majority are from rural communities, and they want to go back to their communities, but most of those communities are in worse shape and its hard to get a job. We’ve heard over and over again that the day-to-day routine of going to an office, facing people and answering to a boss is really difficult for veterans. Farming is a peaceful challenge: its difficult and physically demanding, but also allows them to be independent.
Were working with a small group of veterans and were offering whatever they need, helping them get loans for leasing property as we grow, we envision that well be connecting them with other resources.
DG: Can you tell me about some of the farmers youve placed?
GW: One of our farmers Matt McCue [picture above. -ed.] - all he ever wanted to do was be in the Army. He did 1 tour in Korea and 1 tour in Iraq. When he was in Iraq, he saw that the farmers were the ones who really had power in that society they could move through checkpoints, and they had a kind of power and presence. He decided that he wanted to do something constructive upon his return, so he joined the Peace Corps in Niger. Throughout his experiences, he became passionate about farming. We placed Matt in a farming apprenticeship for a year, and he is now starting a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Solano County, CA. We helped him get a lease on land. (Read more about Matt here).
Earlier this month we placed Sam, a young man who had been corresponding with us during his last six months of active service. He knew he wanted to farm but recently decided he was interested in learning viticulture. Within a week of coming home we placed him at a well-paying job with Bacchus Vineyard Management in Santa Rosa. He’s driving the tractor, doing well, and his boss says he would like to hire a second vet. Well also be introducing him to the two year viticulture program at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Sams our third vet to be placed on a farm in the North Bay this month.
Another veteran in Florida is disabled and has difficulty bending over, but he grew up in a farming family and wanted to go back to his community to start a farm. He came up with this idea he began planting berries in pots above the ground. He is making his farm wheel chair accessible so that other vets can help him with his harvest. We are mentoring him in his work.
I see these farmer-vets becoming advocates for sustainable farming and the healing power of the earth.
DG: Your organization got on its feet as a result of a partnership of sorts with Community Partners. How has that helped?
GW: Community Partners is our fiscal sponsor, and they have amazing connections in the sustainable food community. Theyve put us in touch with the Department of Agriculture and regional USDA offices to try and find a way that veterans can be highlighted in future fundraising opportunities. Theyve helped open the door through levels of bureaucracy that we wouldnt be able to access on our own.
DG: As a leader of your local Slow Food chapter, how do you think Slow Food can get involved in this kind of work?
GW: For starters, perhaps farmers who attended Terra Madre would want to become part of our mentoring program and get connected with returning vets. At a recent regional meeting of Slow Food leaders, I told people about the organization and many leaders expressed interest in getting involved perhaps fundraising and also just raising awareness is a good way to start.
DG: How can people learn more or become involved in what you are doing?
GW: Visit us online at http://www.farmvetco.org/ to learn more about our organization. We want to create an active community of vets, farmers and anyone interested in our mission.