Veterans in New York participate in agricultural training opportunities across the state, growing skills and strengthening community connections.
by Kat McCarthy
Walking into classroom 167 at SUNY Adirondack on July 31, the average person wouldn’t know from a quick visual observation that there were two unifying features of the 2017 Armed to Farm cohort. Twenty-five individuals from across New York filled the classroom, each with a one-foot high stack of books in front of them on the table, and many with steaming cups of coffee. From a quick glance, it would seem more likely that this group was attending a crash course in statistics than a week-long intensive designed for veterans interested in farming.
As the initial conversation circled the room, with individuals making introductions and sharing background information, the energy and enthusiasm for growing food and giving back to the community was unmistakable. Each year draws a unique cohort of dedicated individuals seeking to learn more about farming, and as usual, the 2017 cohort represents a range of experiences – from those beginning to explore their options, to employees on farms interested in becoming owners, to beginning and more advanced farmers. And as expected from a group of twenty-five, a wide range of interests was also represented: hydroponics, aquaponics, Christmas tree production, dairy management, grazing and pasture management, market gardening, agrotoursim, mushroom cultivation, livestock management, beekeeping, fruit tree cultivation, and more.
This year marks the third consecutive year in which New York State veterans have had the opportunity to attend Armed to Farm business and entrepreneurship training. Over the course of the week, participants interacted with educators from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), staff from the Cornell Small Farms Program, regional service providers, and local producers. Developed by NCAT, and brought to New York with support from the Cornell Small Farms Program, the program offers the opportunity to learn constantly – during classroom presentations, through conversations with peers, and while engaging in hands on activities during farm visits.
Intended to offer an introduction to many areas of agriculture, the 2017 program featured visits to six area farms. Starting at Sunset Farm, attendees got a taste for managing vegetable crops and operating a roadside stand. On day two, participants took a pasture walk at Mack Brook Farm and learned about tools to improve efficiency in vegetable production at Slack Hollow Farm, seeing a
flame weeder, mechanized high tunnel ventilation, and numerous cultivating tools. Day three included an overview of hops production and processing at Argyle Craft Malts and Hops, an overview of diary operations at Clover Bliss Farm, and a visit to Moxie Ridge Farm & Creamery, which highlighted agritourism opportunities – raising goats, sheep & chickens, making cheese, all while running a bed and breakfast. Closing out the farm visits, attendees met with Paul Arnold at Pleasant Valley Farm on day four, demonstrating a model for continual improvement in diversified vegetable production.
Considering the wide range of interests represented throughout the training, this broad focus was beneficial. “This program allows someone to see a lot of options that are available to them and decide what may or may not be a good fit,” notes Dean Koyanagi, the Veterans Program Associate at the Cornell Small Farms Program. “For example, at the end of the week, one couple left the training with the take-away that they would rather focus on livestock and not get involved with growing veggies. These lessons are invaluable in helping people save time and money while focusing on what is most important to them.” At the end of the week, participants left having gained new resources to tap into, new ideas for enterprises, and new community connections as they continue to pursue their aspirations for farming.
Opportunities for veterans interested in farming are not limited to this week-long training. In August, the Farmer Veteran Coalition of New York, in partnership with the Cornell Small Farms Program, offered two additional events – one in New York City, and another on Long Island. On August 9, 11 veterans gathered to tour the rooftop farm at the Brooklyn Grange and the Union Square farmer’s market, ending with a networking lunch coordinated by GrowNYC. Individuals interested in oyster farming were provided with a hands-on opportunity to learn on fishing boats at a workshop held August 12th.
Looking ahead, Farm Ops partners across the state will continue to offer training opportunities on a rolling basis. Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Jefferson County, Broom County, and Allegany County, as well as the Farmer Veteran Coalition, Heroic Foods, and Equicenter all have educational events scheduled in the coming months. The Cornell Small Farms Program also offers online courses on a wide variety of topics and registration is currently open its website. Funding for these initiatives is provided though support from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882.
Kat McCarthy is the Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator at the Cornell Small Farms Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about available programs, please visit the Farm Ops webpage, http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/farm-ops/. To learn more about NCAT and the Armed to Farm training, please go to: https://www.ncat.org/armedtofarm/. Information about the Farmer Veteran Coalition can be found: http://www.farmvetco.org/.