Veterans Find New Mission in Agriculture – Veteran Farmers of America
Veterans coming home from military service can now take part in a new mission—that of growing food to feed their community—thanks to a new organization, Veteran Farmers of America (VFA) and Ventura County farmers.
VFA helps place veterans in paid, two-week internship programs with local farms that best fit their interests. A veteran contacts VFA and VFA makes a match with a farmer. “Many people go into the service wanting to do something bigger than themselves, to help others,” says Julie Sardonia, VFA program coordinator. “Agriculture is similar. Farmers help others by providing food locally, nationally and around the world. The skills veterans learn in the military are a natural fit for the agricultural industry.”
So far, VFA has placed over a dozen veterans in agricultural internships. Participating farms include Mission Produce, McGrath Family Farms, Limoneira Company, Underwood Farms and Rancho Del Pueblo. During the internships, veterans shadow a farm manager, learn the trade of the particular farm, learn about farm equipment, the cyclical nature of farming and farm career opportunities.
The first grower to sign on with VFA was Mission Produce. “Veterans bring with them a strong set of skills and work ethic. We’ve found they work well with people, can take orders, or in supervisory roles, give orders,” says Steve Barnard, Mission Produce CEO. “We’re proud to be part of VFA’s efforts. VFA is designed to help veterans, but in fact, it also helps farmers. Because of the training the veterans received in their military careers, we don’t have to start at square one. They can be an immediate asset to our company.”
Lawrence Parkhill, a decorated combat Marine, began his internship at Mission Produce. He was the first veteran placed by VFA and is one of its co-founders. When finished with his internship, Mission Produce’s Barnard was so impressed with Parkhill that he offered him a job. Parkhill is now Maintenance Support Manager.
“I find the work to be interesting and the atmosphere on the farm is suitable for veterans. Steve Barnard has made it a directive of sorts to hire veterans and upon my arrival, there were already a few working for him. Since I started he has hired many more,” says Parkhill. “The program has provided me with a meaningful career at Mission Produce that has opened doors throughout the industry. The best part of all is that I no longer feel like I’m an outlier.”
“Veterans need real options and a purpose when they get out of the military,” says Sardonia. “VFA’s goal is to give them that. Maintaining our food system is a matter of national security. A career in agriculture is another way to serve. There are so many different types of jobs in ag including production, marketing and management.”
America’s farmers are retiring. It is estimated that 1 million new farmers will be needed over the next 10 years. “Veterans may very well be the next generation of our country’s farmers,” says Sardonia.
A fundraiser for VFA will be held May 20 at Mission Produce’s new Oxnard packinghouse. For more information about VFA, go to http://vetfarm.org or contact Sardonia at firstname.lastname@example.org, 805-797-5539.
About Veteran Farmers of America
VFA was founded to help veterans transition from active duty to civilian life—an often difficult task. Through VFA, a veteran’s mission goes from protecting the country in far off lands to providing fellow Americans at home with a healthy and abundant food supply. VFA is under the umbrella of Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children about the “journey of food—from field to fork” through school programs and farm fieldtrips. www.vetfarm.org