By Joe Angelino
Last night I attended the Chenango County Farm Bureau annual meeting at The Silo Restaurant in Coventry. Some readers will be surprised to learn the New York Farm Bureau was founded in nearby Binghamton in 1911 and has grown to 52 counties and over 25,000 members. The Farm Bureau is a ‘grassroots’ organization, meaning their policies are developed at the local membership level and passed higher to the state ranks then to the national level, if needed. This is the best way to represent the membership’s interests on various topics to ensure agriculture and the rural way of life is at the forefront in upstate New York.
One of the topics which intrigued me, making me wish I was younger, are the Veteran-to-Farmer programs at the state and federal levels. Our nation has been in armed conflict since October 2001 at once place or another, and we have developed a whole new generation of veterans. These are just the type of mission oriented people needed to operate our nation’s farms and ranches. If you haven’t noticed, there is an abundance of open land in our area; a good deal of it was once farm land. Adding to this is the fact the average age of a farm owner is 58 years old and it’s easy to see there could be a looming shortage of food producers. Here is an employment opportunity not just in the production dairy, beef and pork, but also for vegetables, fruits and grains. This is also an opportunity to maintain the link of farm to table at the local level.
There are various programs for the aspiring veteran-farmer with funding to purchase land, animals, equipment and to pay for the most important piece, training and education. It would be great to see some of our old weathering barns getting fresh paint and come alive with animals again. Before anyone becomes starry eyed, you should know this won’t be easy, and as a matter of fact, it will be hard. But that’s why veterans are perfect for this mission. Vets are the type of person who volunteered for boot camp or basic training, and we all know how ‘easy’ that was. Many veterans had more responsibility on their shoulders at 21 years old than a 20 year manufacturing employee. Veterans also know once trained and properly equipped, any mission could be conducted with a great probability of success.
There is research data that shows a high percentage of enlisted military recruits come from the rural areas of the United States; central New York has an even higher percentage. The federal and state governments have set aside tax dollars for Veteran-Farmer programs and it needs to be used before the money is sent to other projects. Because there are so few veterans, the odds are favorable an application into one or more of these programs could be successful.
Veterans, you are special people. You owe it to yourself to look into these programs. There are government employees getting paid to help you get into one of these programs. If farming isn’t for you, perhaps you know a veteran who might be interested. Because these programs are funded into the foreseeable future, a high school senior may consider a stint in the military. Not only will there be generous G.I. Bill benefits waiting at the end of a person’s military tour, maybe they can return home and take over the family farm or start one of their own.
For Department of Agriculture information check this webpage: newfarmers.usda.gov/veterans at the federal level. New York State has information about educational and tax benefits, I suggest a Google search: “New York veterans to farmer program” because their web address is too lengthy. And finally, there is the Farmer-Veteran Coalition at: www.farmvetco.org.
If someone wants it, I’ll offer to help a fellow veteran find purpose in life, just stop me on the street or send me a line. Also, I’m sure our County Farm Bureau President and Vietnam veteran Bradd Vickers has Veteran-to-Farmer information at his fingertips too. Mr. Vickers can be contacted at www.ccfbny.org.
If today’s column seems ‘thrown together’ it is because my original editorial was about convicted military deserter Sgt. Robert 'Bowe' Bergdahl and his statements the Taliban were better to him than the US Army. That topic is too infuriating and if not written properly might somehow impugn the rest of our service members. At the last minute I turned my focus toward the good veterans, whom I’m happy to say are rule, not the exception. It is these veterans that deserve the space on today’s editorial page.
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