July 9, 2019 In The News

Hudson Valley 360: Building bridges from combat to farming

U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, is promoting a program that would pair veterans and farmers, with both sides coming out ahead.

The program was launched by Cornell University and is designed to train veterans in the skills they need to transition to jobs in agriculture when they return home after performing their military service. It includes on-the-job training and opportunities for apprenticeship programs.

“There is a great program put forth by the Cornell University Small Farms Program,” Delgado said during a conference call with local journalists. “They work to try to team up veterans with farmers who are looking for an extra pair of hands, who will have the discipline and work ethic that is often required on farms.”

Lloyd Zimmermann, owner of Black Horse Farms in Athens, said teaming up farmers and veterans would be a boon to both.

“I think it’s a very good idea, and I think Congressman Delgado should be praised for doing this,” Zimmermann said. “It takes the strain off the farmers and it takes some stress off the veterans. I think it will get bipartisan support, which would be a change.”

In addition to providing veterans with job training in a new field and helping them transition to civilian life, Zimmermann said it would help farmers find workers in an industry where hiring is a challenge.

“The worker situation here is terrible,” Zimmermann said. “The average person doesn’t want to work on a farm — you have to work very hard.”

Eric Ooms, co-owner of A. Ooms and Sons Farm in Kinderhook, said he knows farmers in other areas who have hired through the program and have been successful with it, but doesn’t know of any local farms that have participated.

“I think there is opportunity there,” Ooms said.

Like Zimmermann, Ooms said the program could fill a need for employees in the agriculture industry.

“There is always a shortage of people who want to get dirty,” Ooms said.

While many farms are family-owned, Ooms added, future generations do not always want to continue the family tradition, and that can add to the employee shortage.

“People and families evolve. My father has five children — his daughter is not involved [on the farm] but his three sons are involved and another son has his own farm. In the next generation he has 14 grandchildren and some of them will not go into farming,” Ooms said. “This is an opportunity where if you have the right set-up, hiring veterans could be a good opportunity and a definite positive. I don’t see any negative to doing this, and the potential positives are tremendous.”

During his in-district work week last week, Delgado visited Sheffer’s Grassland Dairy Farm in Hoosick Falls, which works with the Cornell University Small Farms Program. Delgado said he was looking for a way to make the program work nationwide.

“How do we create a program like this at the federal level to match veterans with farmers in need?” Delgado said.

One of the employees — a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder — hired at the dairy farm as part of the program, has benefited in numerous ways, Delgado said.

“[The veteran] came home after surviving a tremendous bout with injuries sustained in combat and was looking at how to find peace of mind, to work in a place that gave him some mindfulness and allowed him to have work that was disciplined, but also allowed him to get away. He found farm work incredibly helpful for him in a host of ways,” Delgado said.

Julie Suarez, an associate dean at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the university wants to expand the program to reach more farmers and veterans.

“The Cornell Small Farms Farm OPS project provides veterans with technical and business education and hands-on training to help them get started in farming and grow viable businesses,” Suarez said. “We also are looking for opportunities to expand apprenticeships to support veterans interested in agriculture.”