(Nebraska News Connection) This winter, military veterans will have an opportunity to translate hard-won skills on the battlefield into Nebraska's fields and pastures through "Putting the Pieces Together," a U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed program.
Martin Neal served 31 years in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard, and is hosting the next training session at his poultry farm about an hour outside of Lincoln. He believes veterans are well positioned to join the ranks of Nebraska's farmers and ranchers.
"People who choose to be in the military have a certain drive, determination, to get the job done," Neal explained. "Agriculture offers some unique rewards that are really suitable to veterans and their ability to provide and to give back to the community."
Registration is underway for the training, which is set for early February. Veterans will shadow an experienced farmer over the course of an entire year, to give them an idea of what it would be like to operate, plan, manage and finance their own farm. To sign up for the free program, call the Center for Rural Affairs at 402-687-2100. All courses also are recorded and available online.
Wyatt Fraas, assistant director of the Farm and Community Program at the Center, said participants make important connections with other veterans, which can help solve problems and even collaborate on marketing and purchasing down the road.
Fraas pointed out farming is a viable way for veterans to make a living in a place they want to be, and they can also help bridge a critical gap in the nation's food production.
"As farmers get older -- the average age has been climbing every year -- the number of beginning farmers has been falling for the last 30 years," Fraas noted. "We need new farmers to replace some of the older ones. So there are opportunities for people to work into existing operations."
Participants meet for six two-hour business classes during colder months, and five half-days on the farm during the production season on the weekends. Neal emphasized after returning from deployment in the Iraqi desert, he found great comfort spending time in Nebraska's green spaces outdoors.
"As a veteran and someone who has experienced combat-type situations, it's relaxing for me to be able to be outside, to reconnect with nature, reconnect with the land," Neal remarked.