USDA, Texas AgrAbility and partners in helping veterans find their mission and purpose in agriculture

They all come from different walks of life and stages and for many reasons, but one thing they all share is that they want to know more about starting their own farm or farm or improving their knowledge and resources for an existing agricultural enterprise. And the Battleground to Breaking Ground (BG2BG) program is the island these military veterans and budding agricultural producers need in a sea of ​​”information overload.”

The BG2BG program is a diversified agribusiness training program for veterans, beginning farmers, and ranchers. The original idea for the program was a two-day workshop for veterans to learn about local, state and federal resources related to agriculture.

NRCS Texas YouTube Video

Since BG2BG’s inception, the program has expanded to include business plan training, launched the Department of Defense (DoD) SkillBridge program approved for transitioning active duty military personnel, provided additional mentoring, and provided agricultural production training at various facilities. beekeeping cattle, sheep and goat rearing through a five-day in-person boot camp to help trainees decide which areas they want to pursue. Through BG2BG, cohorts gain skills and knowledge to help start and/or improve agricultural operations.

“The organizers of Battleground to Breaking Ground have worked really closely with both the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) since its inception,” said Kristy Oates, State Ranger at USDA NRCS. Texas.

The training program expands to meet different needs

It is under BG2BG Texas Agility programWhich is part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service provides services to agricultural individuals with disabilities, chronic health conditions or functional limitations to start or engage in agricultural production.

BG2BG Program Director, Erin Kimbrough, Texas AgrAbility staff, veterans in the program, and partners including the USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture, Farmer Veteran Coalition and many others are working to expand and improve the program with a phased cohort training program to meet growing needs. veteran and non-military beginning farmer/farmer population.

John and Erin with the goats.

“The program is important for many reasons,” Kimbrough said. “Battleground to Breaking Ground provides much needed support and assistance to our new and very new agricultural producers. our farmers and ranchers are more sustainable because they have a written plan and learn how to best implement it.”

Since the cohort training program started in 2016, there have been a total of 12 cohorts, with 13 cohorts. applications are accepted until December 5, 2022. Over 100 individuals have gone through the program and many are now mentors and trainers.

According to Kimbrough, “Meveryone comes with little or no experience, but farmers and ranchers who have been in production for years can really benefit from participating in the program by developing a business plan and learning how to work USDA, state and non-profit programs together. for helping agricultural enterprises”.

“Often people come into the program with their sights set on a practice like raising cattle, but they have no idea what will work for them or the time and costs involved,” Kimbrough said. “Plans change as we move from Battleground to Breaking Ground.”

“We give participants the structure they need, where they have plans for how to learn about agriculture. And they get that business planning so they know what their finances are and what’s possible,” said Faye McGuire, program manager for the BG2BG Program.

Sandi Parriott is an active duty Army Vet participating in BG2BG’s Skills Training Program (STP) through the DoD SkillBridge Program as part of her transition back to civilian life. The DoD SkillBridge Program is an opportunity for military personnel to gain valuable civilian work experience through industry-specific training. Parriott describes the program as “an opportunity for transitioning service members to get a jump on their careers.”

Sandi Parriott at boot camp with her mentor Heidi.

Parriott worked closely with his mentor, Heidi Barber, who is also a military veteran. “There is a common point there. He actually went through Battleground to Breaking Ground and he’s a sheep farmer. Between these shared experiences, it allows us to meet on common ground,” said Parriott.

Kimbrough explains that this is a shared theme among program participants. It is easier to get help and guidance from those who have gone through similar experiences and comparable lifestyles than those who have not. By having this mentoring program run by military veterans themselves, new participants were more likely to stick with the program and start a new agricultural business.

Financial and technical assistance is above and beyond

The BG2BG program helps with more than just education.

“New ideas come into play and they are expanded. Often veterans will come back and teach or share with the next group. Because these training opportunities are provided year after year, there are always additional participants who come back to let others hear their stories,” said Oates of the BG2BG training program. “They have a great network and the ability to communicate for years to come.”

Doug Havemann, a veteran and co-owner of Mesquite Field Farms in Nixon, Texas, is a mentor and trainer after going through the BG2BG program and the Mentor Training Program with his wife, Melissa. They bring participants to their farms to share their story of what it took to get them to where they are now and train the participants installation of high tunnels, planting of cover crops, welding, poultry processing, etc.

“Resources learned about USDA agencies, such as NRCS technical protection and financial assistance to address soil natural resource issues, Farm Service Agency loans, or Risk Management Agency opportunities for crop, specialty and disaster insurance for veterans and beginning producers are invaluable.” Havemann said.

Doug Havemann with grass-fed cattle.

“NRCS has been a huge help,” said Havemann. He describes how Jason Katcsmorak, NRCS District Ranger in Floresville, has worked with them over the years, learning from each side that they are unconventional farmers.

“Jason helped us with our farm plan, which is our conservation plan. It has helped us a lot in understanding what is in our land: what grasses grow here, what our soil type is like, what the weather is like here year round. And this protection plan was included in our general economic plan.” Havemann said.

Doug and Melissa both share that BG2BG, USDA, Holistic Management International (HMI) and other programs, along with a lot of hard work and dedication, have helped them get to where they are today with their operations, providing them with the opportunity to educate, mentor, and mentor them. promote agribusiness development to veterans, novice farmers and farmers. They would also save a lot of time, money, and work if they learned about the USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture, and other programs shared in the BG2BG program.

More than agricultural advice

Texas AgrAbility and BG2BG have been able to provide the additional resources needed to help veterans with disabilities and farm transitions stay in agriculture or enter agricultural production. Through the program, participants can access mental health support and one-on-one mentoring.

Edward Stock served 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, followed by four part-time years in the Utah Air National Guard with the 151st Utah Air National Guard during Desert Storm and humanitarian efforts in Somalia. These days, he owns a farm in Wills Point, near Dallas, where he raises cows.

The exchange found BG2BG by working with the USDA FSA and conducting research.

“It seemed like it would be a good fit to help me learn more about farming,” Stock said.

He said the business plan portion of the program helped him understand and define some of the goals he needed to put together to lay the groundwork for his ranch suite. This was phase 1 of the program.

Phase 2, he said, informed him of the various resources out there. Now in Phase 3, which includes hands-on training, learning, mentoring and coaching, Stock shares that FSA, as well as the Farmer Veteran Coalition, are great resources that provide not only great knowledge, but also opportunities like the training he received.

And he doesn’t keep what he learns.

“I’ve developed good relationships with some of the young soldiers who are ready to get out and hopefully give them some understanding and knowledge of what they’re going to do next,” he said. “I think I gave them a little bit of confidence that they can do it, and that’s what I hope to give back to them. It’s about giving back to the younger generation.”

You don’t just have to leave the military to take advantage of these programs, Stock said.

“I’ve been in another career for a day or two,” he says with a smile. “It doesn’t matter if you’re just going through a divorce or have been out for 30 years, the program is here to help. Empowering you to gain the confidence and knowledge and understanding you need to succeed.”

“Another huge benefit is the friendships and relationships that come from being involved in the program,” said Havemann. “We are here to support each other, share and help each other through the challenges that Mother Nature and life in general throws at us.”

On the horizon

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow the BG2BG program to continue through 2024 through a grant from the Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program.

As partnerships expand and the program grows, more opportunities arise for participants who complete the training and mentors whose mentors complete the BG2BG training.

With solutions like these emerging, it’s no surprise that many people are getting a head start in life in agriculture. With just over one percent of the U.S. population being farmers or ranchers, bringing others on board to feed the rest of the world is another call to duty for these veterans.

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