Agricultural training programs designed for veterans should include plenty of hands-on experiences for this high-energy group. Norm Conrad, Northeast Director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) strongly suggests having extra materials on-hand as well as an extra group exercise or activity in the curriculum. Veterans are often more focused, productive and efficient than other workshop attendees.
Conrad, an agricultural specialist and veteran, he says veterans are good at planning, goal-oriented and value honor almost above all. Injury or pain does not concern them but veterans value safety tips learned in farmer training. Veterans see farming challenges as something to defeat, slay or an obstacle to convert. Presenters need to be “genuine” and know their subject matter. Veterans do not want a handout; they want to learn their own way.
Veterans tend to think and operate in teams, working to help other veterans and generally respect leadership structures. Military leaders have earned the right to lead their units and to give orders. As farmer educators, service providers need to earn and maintain their dominance in their instructor roles. Conrad urged educators to use specific examples, not generalities and minimize references to institutions or government agency abbreviations.
The most effective educators for veterans are other veterans. Conrad suggested educators work with successful veteran farmers as teachers and farm hosts. The veteran farmers who communicate well will engage other veterans as they share their experience, skills and knowledge.
NCAT’s “Armed to Farm: Sustainable Agriculture Training for Military Veterans” program is a workshop for beginning farmer educators at the Beginning Farmer Learning Network (BFLN) Conference. NCAT has offered sustainable farming education programs for veterans since 2010. Training programs range from conference workshops, 2-day weekend workshops to weeklong immersion training. Many programs have a competitive application process.
Training scenarios include:
- Visits to farm sites
- Hands-on experience
- Business and financial planning
- Develop a resource network of peers and educators
- Follow-up assistance and further training opportunities
Training sites should include some veteran-owned farms and value-added facilities. Conrad knows that this can be a challenge to arrange. His workshop evaluations indicate that veterans value peer training. Veterans should hear an overview of what they need to know then grab tools and “do” their lesson with minimal oversight. This may involve installing fencing, trimming animal hooves, erecting hi-tunnel structures or transplanting seedlings.
NCAT’s Armed to Farm educators introduce holistic farm planning and risk management concepts in their workshops. Whenever possible, veteran and their farm partners (spouse, older teenage child, parent, etc.) attend workshops as a team. This veteran team agrees on their farm goals as the basis for their farm business plan. Conrad said this team approach comes from the reality that no one “farms alone.”
In Conrad’s experience as an educator, weeklong intensive education programs, online training and 2-year Associate degree programs work well with veterans. Minimally structured internships or traditional 4-year Bachelor’s degree programs in residency settings do not typically appeal to veteran farmer, especially when veterans have exhausted their VA educational benefits.