At a recent Veterans Day commemoration in Ancram, the Hudson Valley musician/singer Mark Rust led the packed room in a rousing chorus of the World War I era song “How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paris”).
It was the perfect segue to remind those gathered that New York State is helping to encourage returning veterans to make their way to the farm — whether they come from a rural background or want to put down roots somewhere new. Thanks to the advocacy of our office, the 2016-17 New York State budget includes $250,000 to establish the Veterans Farmer Grant Fund. This new program will provide support for returning veterans who choose agricultural work, covering costs that would otherwise not be paid by the GI Bill.
The goal of this initiative is to support veterans returning to New York through work in agriculture while at the same time addressing the widespread need for a new generation of farmers to feed our families. The average age of a farmer today is 57 years old. Our state recognizes that there is a critical need to attract younger men and women to farming, especially as we are seeing a growing, unmet demand for locally and sustainably grown food. Returning veterans can be a natural fit to help fill this gap as farming is increasingly recognized as a therapeutic, rewarding, and community building pathway for veterans transitioning to civilian life.
In the Hudson Valley we know that agriculture is fundamental to who we are — it is our legacy and remains essential to our local economy. In the earliest days of our young nation, this region was the breadbasket. Now the agricultural sector is diversified to include dairy, livestock, fruits, vegetables — and grains that may just as likely end up in a local craft beer or spirit as a loaf of bread.
We, as a nation, did much to ensure the Greatest Generation was given the tools to succeed following World War II. After September 11, 2001, many men and women stood up to terror attacks and dutifully served our country, despite the ambiguous nature of the armed conflicts. New York State not only owes them a debt of gratitude, but should provide them, too, with the resources, opportunities and tools to succeed now. This Veterans Farmer Grant Fund is one such effort.
In addition to this grant fund, there are other initiatives helping returning veterans find careers in agriculture. Heroic Foods, right here in Columbia County, is one such program. Please share this information with any veteran you think might be interested and feel free to contact our Hudson office at (518) 828-1961 or our Poughkeepsie office at (845) 454-1703 for more information.