Organization Uses Ag to Help Veterans
By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor
California Ag Today is proud to announce a partnership in support of Farmer Veteran Coalition by featuring stories about their members on a monthly basis. This is the first story in a series that will carry over into the next year.
Agriculture is important in countless ways. In the broadest sense, California’s agricultural industry feeds the world and provides many jobs. But on a smaller level, farming can change one life at a time, whether it’s educating a child or giving purpose to a veteran. That’s what Randy Ryan discovered since he retired from military service with the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps.
“I volunteered to help some kids grow some food. They said, ‘Man, you’re really good with these kids.’ That started me on the path to teaching kids in the Southern
California area about growing food,” Ryan said.
Ryan, who grew up on a farm in Tennessee, began working with Teaching Gardens, a program funded by the American Heart Association that fights childhood obesity by teaching kids how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and understand the value of good eating habits.
“I used to go into classrooms and say, ‘Let’s try some broccoli. Let’s try some kale.’ They were like, ‘Ew,’” Ryan recalled. “But if they grow it, they are going to desire it. And if they desire it, they are going to buy it locally.”
While working with Teaching Gardens, Ryan also connected with the Farmer Veteran Coalition. The non-profit organization’s mission is to “cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders and develop viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities.” The Coalition believes “agriculture offers veterans purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits.”
Now, Ryan has become the manager of a new California initiative with the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “We’re going to focus on the state of California and get more veterans involved” Ryan said. The Coalition aims to reach more veterans with information on how to get involved and to encourage more farmers to provide internships to veterans.
Ryan recognizes it can be hard to ask a farmer to train a veteran because they do not necessarily have the time or resources. That’s why Ryan is focused on getting fellowships and grants. Already, many partners have come aboard, including Newman’s Own and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
“There are also a lot of opportunities in the industry other than starting your own farm,” Ryan pointed out. He encourages veterans to consider opportunities in farm management, vineyard management and food safety, among other jobs. “The skills from being a veteran and those from being in the food and agriculture industry—they are so similar to me,” he said.
Ultimately, Farmer Veteran Coalition aims to give returning veterans a purpose after serving their country in the military. “Veterans come home with a feeling of needing to serve,” Ryan said. “Veterans want to serve. There is nothing that gives you purpose like serving. And I cannot think of a better way for veterans to serve than to grow food.”