Military veterans returning to civilian life can find the transition difficult, especially when it comes to employment. Thanks to the American Farm Bureau Federation's Patriot Project, service men and women can put their skills to work in a new field back home.
The Patriot Project connects military veterans interested in farming with experienced Farm Bureau members. The mentorship is a natural fit for many of our nation's veterans. They are up for the challenges agriculture brings, according to Damon Helton, an army veteran mentee from Arkansas.
"Farm life has had such a positive impact on me and my family," Helton said. "My military experience helped me contribute to my country with hard work and dedication. Farming has given me that same opportunity and leaves me very fulfilled."
At its heart, the Patriot Project is about strengthening community and creating mentorships that help farmers succeed through purposeful relationship building and business development--a desire that aligns with Farm Bureau's mission.
"There is a special bond of service to our nation between farmers and military veterans that runs deep," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "Veterans are not only the backbone of our country, but of our farmlands and rural communities."
State partnerships are critical to the success of the project, with Texas and Arkansas Farm Bureaus currently piloting the program. Dale Bullock, Texas Farm Bureau director of field operations and state pilot advisor, believes that collaboration between Farm Bureau leaders and veterans will keep America viable.
"Texas is starting to notice a decline in the number of farmers and ranchers while the average age increases," Bullock said. "Programs, such as the Patriot Project, can be an avenue to attract a new generation involved in the production of food and fiber."
As these new farmers kick start their businesses, they are looking for someone to turn to with their farming questions. Ross Dunn, Arkansas Farm Bureau assistant director of public policy and state pilot advisor, believes the Patriot Project answers that call through relationship building.
"Farm Bureau mentors who have volunteered their time and energy share their wealth of knowledge about the ups and downs of production agriculture," Dunn said. "The men and women of the U.S. military are deserving of the absolute best we can offer to sustain their families and their future."
The program structure is outlined in three online modules, which are housed in the new FB University. The modules guide farmer veterans and their mentors through the structure of Farm Bureau, the principles of successful mentorship, and finally help them develop successful business plans. The program gives mentors and mentees a structure to follow without being too rigid.
"It is my hope that more veterans see the positive impact agriculture provides to our country and how they can be involved," Helton said. "Becoming a farmer has helped me in many ways that go beyond income. It has brought my family together, and given me the opportunity to continue caring for my country after my military career."
Morgan Slaven is a program assistant for membership and program development at the American Farm Bureau Federation, where she works closely with state Farm Bureaus on the new Patriot Project.