Soldier to Agriculture Program: A Renewed Sense of Purpose Part 2
As Paige Jackson’s husband, Derrick, started looking to transition out of the military after 14 years of service, farming captured the couple’s interest. About the same time they started with pasture-raised chickens for both meat and eggs, Paige enrolled in the Soldier to Agriculture Program, which is open to both veterans and their spouses.
This program, which is offered as part of N.C. State’s Agricultural Institute, is designed to give soldiers, who are within 180 days of transitioning out of the military, an insight into what the agricultural industry in North Carolina has to offer and to help them make a transition from military service to a career in agriculture. In appreciation for the service, sacrifice, courage and dedication of soldiers, the Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina recently gifted the program $30,000 to support its efforts.
One-Stop Shop Attracts Transitioning Soldiers
“The program is really helpful and a one-stop shop for all things that you need to know as a farmer or as an aspiring farmer transitioning into the agricultural industry,” says Paige. “The course gave me a good foundation in terms of having the tools to get going.”
While the course touches on many aspects of small farm production systems and provides information on certificate and degree programs in agriculture, Paige says a key takeaway for her was the information about agritourism since it aligned with her interests. “I appreciated the breakdown on what my margins need to be and the aspect of the course where they offered examples and breakdowns of costs and different organizations to connect with to get listed in your area.”
Paige and Derrick have implemented several lessons learned on their farm, Grass Grazed in Durham County, which now includes not only poultry but pastured beef and pork, and A2/A2 dairy cows. They also open their farm to visitors and farm to table events. “I’ve seen that connecting over a meal is a great way to connect with the community to showcase what we’re doing in terms of bringing our vision and mission to life,” Paige says.
The two have been featured in USA Today in an article on the importance of Black farmers. “Our hope is to be an example for others who are wanting to get into the industry and maybe don’t have a point of reference,” says Paige. “We hope to be an encouragement so people can see that anyone can farm. Color and creed, it doesn’t matter, you can do it.” Toward that goal, they have two interns working with them during the summer, giving the teenagers the opportunity to learn more.
Program Is Introduction to Agriculture for Many
For Bradley Shaw, who retired from the military after 28 years, the course was a good introduction to agriculture. He grew up on a beef cattle farm in Yadkin County, where his family still farms, and Bradley hopes to return there in the next few years. He considers the program a way for veterans to broaden their horizons.
“It’s a way to see how it’s going to be when you no longer have to get up and put on the uniform anymore,” he says. “People from the military come from all walks of life. They come from all over the United States and some may have grown up in the city and not know the first thing about farming. I think the course is good exposure for those people and I would highly recommend it.”
Among the most valuable aspects of the program to Bradley was the chance to tour farms and learn more about how each individual farmer approaches farming.
“Our participants see what is possible when we go to these farms,” says Samantha Manning, program coordinator and veteran liaison who served five years in the Army. “They see what people have been able to accomplish in three years or five years.”
Supporting Our Veterans Helps Agricultural Industry
“This is a program that is supporting soldiers in their journey and transitioning, which I think is really needed and is sometimes overlooked,” says Paige. “It’s an organization that really cares about veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
“This is a beneficial, vital program and the participants are going to finish and go out and be part of the agricultural community,” says Samantha. “We appreciate the support of Farm Credit and local communities for the veterans who are getting into farming.”
“The program wouldn’t exist without the support of Farm Credit and others,” says Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, founder of the program and director of the Agricultural Institute. “That is why it is unique. It’s based on people wanting to give back and seeing that the program makes sense.”
Program benefits extend to the agricultural industry too. “The ag industry is hurting for workers,” says Samantha. “A lot of our participants will go on to get specific training for the necessary skills for agricultural careers. These are folks who are used to being held accountable. They are going to hold themselves to a higher standard and are valuable employees.”
By Leah Chester-Davis
In part 1, the director of the Agricultural Institute and the Soldier to Agriculture program coordinator and veteran liaison share details about the program.
Learn more: Soldier to Agriculture relies on gifts and grants. If interested in supporting the program, contact Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, email@example.com or 919-515-7035; to learn more about enrolling in the course contact veteran liaison and program coordinator Samantha Manning, firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-903-5146.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Farmer (2021 Photo Contest)