AgrAbility Receives USDA Grant to Educate Vets, New Farmers (TX UCEDD)

By Rachel Knight, The Battalion

April 17, 2017

Texas AgrAbility, a part of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, received a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help educate 725 military veterans and first-time farmers about how to start farming.

This grant will fund three years of an extension to the Texas AgrAbility Battle Ground to Breaking Ground program called Battle Ground to Breaking Ground Entrepreneurial Training Project in which participants will go through a three-step training process to become successful agricultural entrepreneurs.

Erin Kimbrough is the Battle Ground to Breaking Ground Program Coordinator, and said 70 percent of the total 725 participants in the program will be veterans while the remaining 30 percent will be individuals or families with an interest in starting to farm for the first time.

"They have to be Texas residents, but we can serve any- body," Kimbrough said. "We have actually had some people show interest who are still active duty across the world, and we want to set them up for success so when they get home and want to transition out they are ready to do that."

Rick Peterson is an associate professor and extension specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and he said investing in this kind of program is important to the future of Texas Agriculture.

"We need a new generation of farmers to come in and start doing production so we can meet that void as it comes into play," Peterson said.

The Battle Ground to Breaking Ground Entrepreneurial

Training Project will consists of three phases. Phase one is a workshop during which participants will learn about the re- sources available to them. Phase two is an online business education course in which participants write a business plan that serves as their application for phase three. Phase three is when participants choose the particular area of agriculture they want to peruse as an entrepreneur, and are given tools specific to that area of agriculture.

"The third phase will move them into online education in the area of production of their choice," Kimbrough said. "Then they'll get 100 hours of hands-on education. We partner them with a mentor and offer multiple field days across the state and at our incubator farms."

The completion of the program provides participants with a certificate that will allow them to start a farming or ranching enterprise by leasing land from one of two incubator farms in Dallas or College Station or by starting production on their own property.

Cheryl Grenwelge is the co-project investigator for Battle Ground to Breaking Ground and Texas AgrAbility. Grenwelge said it is important for veterans to know that agriculture is an employment opportunity.

"Roughly 45 to 50 percent of Texas veterans reside in rural counties," Grenwelge said. "So employment in an agriculture production field might be one of the few opportunities these individuals have to engage back in the employment arena."

The real power of this program, said Kimbrough, is in its therapeutic qualities.

"It's important because agriculture saves lives," Kimbrough said. "We've seen many times that a lot of our veterans don't really have a purpose when they get out of the military, because they've had this job where they make a difference everyday and then they're just cut loose. So, the ag culture, seeing things grow, and bringing things back to life is so therapeutic that it literally saves lives."