A really good fit

A really good fit
A group of military veterans recently took advantage of a UGA Farm Again workshop in Watkinsville.

The University of Georgia is working to bring military veterans into farming.  Specifically, the Farm Again program assists farmers with chronic health conditions and disabilities with farming. 

The program provides a wide variety of services from adaptations that may make farming tasks easier to providing one-on-one technical assistance on agriculture. 

“We’ve really seen an influx of veterans into our programs over the last four years, most in the last year,” said Rebecca Brightwell, associate director of the Institute on Human Development and Disability and public service faculty member in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“Farming is a really good fit for veterans. They’re used to hard work,” she said. “They want to stay busy from the time they get up until they go to bed. They want to continue to be of service. They want to serve our nation. And they’re looking for that next mission in life. And what a noble cause to feed our nation.”

“The rate of disability for veterans returning home is fairly high,” Brightwell added. “Over 22 percent of the veterans in Georgia have some type of disability. That number may be much higher since some veterans may have undiagnosed disabilities.”

Tim Anderson of Warner Robins is a veteran of 17 years who served in Bosnia. He grew up on his grandparents’ farm near Baltimore and after losing a leg in a motorcycle accident following his military career, he decided to try his hand at growing vegetables.

For the last three years, he’s been working with UGA’s Farm Again program to help grow his backyard garden into an eventual full-size farm. Currently he grows organic broccoli, rainbow carrots, garlic and Brussels sprouts in raised beds, which he sells at the farmers market.

He attended a produce food safety workshop recently held by UGA Cooperative Extension in Watkinsville, where he and 14 others learned about topics such as water runoff and contaminants that may impact crops. He’s now working out the logistics of growing organic oyster mushrooms in a greenhouse.

With the UGA Extension workshops, he said he is “always learning. You have to learn so much.” He plans to take as many workshops as the university offers.

Chris Dorsey, a program coordinator in the Institute on Human Development and Disability, teaches the veterans farming classes. He’d grown up on a small farm. After returning from Iraq in 2004, Dorsey turned back to farming.

“Unknowingly I was using farming and gardening as a therapeutic tool,” he said.

He turned his own Dahlonega farm into a veterans healing farm. This summer, he joined UGA’s staff to teach classes to veterans.

“We’re using agriculture as a therapeutic and educational tool to help vets get their lives back on track,” he said.

The workshops have a dual purpose: They teach veterans about farming but also help them find a network of support. 

“We had this brotherhood and sisterhood when we served,” Dorsey said. “We get out (of the military), and we lose that. So we’re trying to form this network of veteran farmers across the Southeast that have each other’s backs again. Anything you need-whether it’s information, something you don’t know-we have this network, you can reach out. Or if we need help in harvesting a crop, having this network of veteran farmers nearby can be a big help.”

The program has been offering a series of workshops that can aid veterans. These include Produce Food Safety, Tractors 101, Soil 101, applying for USDA loans, selling at the farmers market, and how to grow organically. 

Many of these workshops are open to the public but target veterans and underserved farmers. The project’s website, www.farmagain.com, features the upcoming workshop schedules and resources that are available.

The Farm Again Program is managed by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Institute on Human Development and Disability in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.