Soldier to Agriculture Program: A Renewed Sense of Purpose Part 1

Soldier to Agriculture Program: A Renewed Sense of Purpose Part 1

Samantha Manning speaks from personal experience when she shares the importance of the Soldier to Agriculture Program, an initiative of N.C. State’s Agricultural Institute that offers a five-week program on Fort Bragg. The purpose of the program is to introduce soldiers, who are transitioning out of the military, to the many careers available in agriculture. The Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina recently gifted the program $30,000 to support veteran farmers and to create a greater bridge between the military and agriculture.

“It gives veterans a renewed sense of purpose, a renewed sense of mission,” Samantha says of the program. “Mission is something that is instilled in soldiers, airmen, seamen, people in the military; they become very mission focused and being involved in agriculture gives them a new mission.”

Not only did Samantha, a veteran, go through the Agricultural Institute and then on to obtain a degree in agricultural education at N.C. A&T, she is now the program coordinator for the Soldier to Agriculture Program. She also raises hogs and farms five acres of seasonal produce including blackberries and blueberries that she sells direct to the consumer.

Started in 2017 by Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, director of the Agricultural Institute, the Soldiers to Agriculture program got its start when Dr. Wilson hired Robert Elliot to serve as a veteran liaison and the program’s first coordinator. He continues to work with the program, in addition to running a nonprofit he started, The Veterans Farm of North Carolina.

Intense Course Introduces Veterans to Agriculture

Soldier to Agriculture participants receive an intensive, five-week introduction to the agricultural industry from N.C. State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty and those working in the agricultural industry. The course includes an overview of small scale production models including market gardening, plant propagation, mushroom production, pasture-raised livestock (beef, poultry, pork), beekeeping, greenhouse and high tunnel vegetable production, building a basic farm business plan, and career opportunities in agriculture. Attendees also learn about university and community college certificate and degree programs.

“The heart of the program is similar to the heart of agriculture and that is that we grow things and we’re helping people,” says Dr. Wilson. “It’s a reflection of saying thank you to our veterans and at the same time ensuring that we have people interested in agriculture for the future. The two industries are the two biggest in the state, the military and agriculture, and it just makes sense that we would work together.”

In addition to intensive classroom learning, the program includes tours of farms for participants to see a variety of production models, tailored to participants’ interests. “We usually have a couple of folks who are seeking a career and looking for employment in agriculture,” says Samantha. “The vast majority are interested in starting a small farm business. It’s one of the reasons we partnered with Farm Credit because veteran farmers can then sign up for the Ag Biz Planning course that Farm Credit offers when they finish with this.”

Connecting Veterans to the Community

Samantha served five years in the Army and understands the camaraderie and sense of community military personnel enjoy and rely on. She shares that transitioning out of the military can be difficult for many and she has found that the agriculture industry offers not only a new mission or purpose, it also offers community.

“It’s community and service minded. When you work in agriculture you have a higher goal in mind, so to speak, feeding your community or even just feeding your family. The agricultural community is small, just like the military community is small. Participants have a chance to network with each other and get a sense of family that you gain in the military and lose when you are not in the military anymore. It gives them a landing place where they can start building a network.”

She points to the value of participants having the opportunity to gain a greater insight into the opportunities in agriculture and different production models and how to access research-based information to increase the efficiency of a farming operation.

“There are so many positive aspects for the veterans that are involved,” she says. “There are mental health aspects. Our program doesn’t address those directly, but they are definitely a positive side effect to working in agriculture and working outdoors. Whether it’s with livestock or horticulture, there’s a mental health therapeutic effect to farming.” Samantha says that is valuable for those who may have a service-connected injury or disability. “If they know there is livestock waiting for them to get fed in the morning or crops to take care of, it gives them a reason to get up and outside. That is beneficial.”

By Leah Chester-Davis

In part 2, meet two participants in the Soldier to Agriculture Program and how it has benefitted them and how this program benefits agriculture.

Learn more: Soldier to Agriculture relies on gifts and grants. If interested in supporting the program, contact Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, or 919-515-7035; to learn more about enrolling in the course contact veteran liaison and program coordinator Samantha Manning, or 919-903-5146.