October 30, 2013

From Battleground to Breaking Ground: Agriculture Workshops for Military Veterans

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, in cooperation with the Texas AgrAbility Project and U.S. Department of Agriculture, are presenting a free agriculture workshop in San Antonio Nov. 9 for military veterans interested in farming or ranching. The workshop, “From Battleground to Breaking Ground: A Transformational Journey,” targets returning veterans who are interested in agriculture production as an employment option.

Texas AgrAbility Project

The Texas AgrAbility Project aims to offer agriculture as an employment option for returning veterans.

A series of 10 workshops will be held across the state through 2014. “The workshops will address the possibilities for ranching or farming for veterans with disabilities,” said Bryan Davis, AgriLife Extension agent for Bexar County. “We’re hoping military veterans will take advantage of this program which has been uniquely designed with input from many organizations and agencies, including Texas AgrAbility, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), National Farmer Veteran Coalition, Farm Service Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture.”

The workshops address specific issues related to agriculture production for veterans with disabilities, however, any veteran interested in farming or ranching is encouraged to attend. Each workshop hosts a military veteran who is operating or in the process of starting an agriculture production business.

Cheryl Grenwelge, affiliated faculty at the Center on Disability and Development (CDD) at Texas A&M, AgriLife Extension Specialist and Texas AgriAbility project coordinator, noted that nearly 45 percent of returning veterans are from rural areas and these programs are designed to support their return to production agriculture. “The program focuses on connecting, assisting and empowering agricultural producers, their family members and employees with disabilities or chronic health conditions to stay engaged in production agriculture,” said Grenwelge.

During a recent workshop, military veteran speaker Chris Barnes told attendees, “all the headaches and heartaches of farming and agriculture production are worth it at the end of the day, when you can look back at the accomplishments on your own piece of land.”

Barnes, whose 10-year military career includes service in the U.S. Army and reserves, said that agriculture is a family legacy he wants to pass on to his children. “I have been around farming all my life. My grandfather got me started farming when I was 5 years old,” said Barnes. “His love of the farm eventually turned into my love of the farm.”

With the help of a Texas Veterans Land Board loan, Barnes took over the note on 54-acres of land once owned by his grandfather. Barnes increased his holdings to 300 acres for an intensive grazing operation. The NRCS helped Barnes with technical and financial assistance for clearing brush, planting grass, installing permanent cross fencing and pond placement and water lines for cattle and irrigation for future forage and hay production.

Veteran John Crawson has been a speaker for three of six workshops, sharing his story of rehabilitation and about the development of his dream – a cattle ranch in central Texas.

Crawson was awarded a Purple Heart Award in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. Later that same year, he was selected for the Wounded Warrior’s Internship with the NRCS in Texas. Growing up on a family ranch in Whitney, Crawson was always an avid outdoorsman. His brother, Jim, also works for the NRCS as a soil conservationist, so an internship with the agency was a good fit.

“One of my favorite things about working for the NRCS is that you get to be outside,” said Crawson. “Visiting with landowners about how to improve their land and seeing them get excited about making it better is really cool,” he added.

The workshop series will be held in venues across the state, including San Antonio, Dallas, Weslaco, Temple and El Paso. The first agriculture workshop on Nov. 9 is presented in conjunction with the San Antonio International Farm and Ranch Show.

For more information on the workshops and to register, contact Cheryl Grenwelge at (979) 845-3727, chgrenwelge@ag.tamu.edu, or program coordinator Erin Pilosi at (979) 847-6185, EMPilosi@ag.tamu.edu, or visit http://txagrability.tamu.edu.

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About: The Center on Disability and Development (CDD), in the College of Education and Human Development, supports the self-determination, community integration and quality of life for people with disabilities and their families. The CDD serves as a resource to the community in the areas of education, research and service as it relates to the needs of people with disabilities. The CDD is a Texas AgriAbility Project partner. To learn more, visit http://cdd.tamu.edu.

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