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5 Step to Become a Farmer using GI Bill Benefits

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Question:

I am at a loss. I grew up in very small Midwest town and now I find myself living in a fairly big Northeast city. I had a rough time in Iraq. Now, I'm floating around several jobs and I can't find a fit. Can my GI Bill benefits be used to find something? Roger

Answer:

A tough and interesting question, but I do have a suggestion that may appeal to you, Roger. Your GI Bill benefits are not an answer; but rather, a tool to be used for discovery and advancement. A friend and associate found some peace and satisfaction in farming after returning from Vietnam. Now, his passion includes helping fellow veterans.

Have you considered agriculture and farming as a vocation? A New York Times article, Helping Soldiers Trade Their Swords for Plows, by Patricia Leigh Brown, Feb. 5, 2011, outlines the opportunities becoming available in this sector of our economy:

“The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either,” said Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer who founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, which supports sustainable-agriculture training. “There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”

My friend moved from Chicago to rural Pennsylvania and bought a farm. He claims that it served him well and allowed him to focus on nurturing something rather than tearing things down. I asked him what he thought about recommending agriculture to you. He said that farming served him well. Now, he wants to host homeless or troubled veterans on part of his farm. I asked what advice he had for you or any perspective new farmer-veteran and he made five recommendations:

1. Decide on home

He traveled around the Midwest and Northeast until he found a place that felt right and that he could afford. Your veterans benefits may help you here, as might other state and federal agriculture programs.

2. Do your research

Once you decide where to settle. Study the area and the products grown. Talk to the local farmers and state and federal agriculture experts to see which crops provide the greatest margin for the beginning farmer-Veteran.

3. Use the GI Bill

With your GI Bill benefits, you are able to learn both the science and the business behind farming.

4. Patience is a virtue

Seldom do things happen quickly on a farm. A pace and continuity exist in farming that is reassuring and positive. Successful farming comes from learning your land and using its best features to produce something of value.

5. Think organic

The growing emphasis on local, organic and safe food is helping the small farmer-Veteran. margins are wide and the products are healthy. You should get to know your customers and those who value your products. My friend is a strong advocate of buying and cooking local, but also, of supporting farmers' markets.

I am far from a farming expert. However, my associate convinced me that farming is a viable business, but may also provide a healthy and therapeutic life for many veterans. Another exciting development is the growth of urban farming and gardening within many city limits. Perhaps one is located in your area where you can get involved on a small scale, study agriculture online and enroll in a summer internship using you GI Bill benefits.

Roger, thanks for the question and I hope my answer helps you. Good luck in the future and please let me know what you decide.

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