Farm of the brave
For many veterans, returning to civilian life is a stark shift from their fast-paced and service-based military life. When you combine this with the more than 4.7 million veterans who have service-based disabilities, the challenges of re-entry compound. The University of Georgia is working to assist Georgia’s veterans with this transition through its dynamic farming program, Farm Again.
“The program does more than you expect it to because it provides more than just equipment,” said Iteago Felton, owner of 3T Farms and Farm Again participant whose military career spans 32 years of Army service. “It gives us the knowledge, a new community of farmers and veterans, and a sense of pride because you know you are of service to your community again.”
Farm Again offers classes covering a wide range of topics including business planning and farming 101, which breaks down the basics for those who are new to the world of agriculture. Rebecca Brightwell, AgrAbility and Farm Again co-director and associate director of UGA’s Institute on Human Development and Disability, said the program highlights the importance of supporting local farmers.
Both Felton and Brightwell believe military life prepares veterans for a life in agriculture. The long hours and laborious work, the need for adaptability and the ability to be of service to the world are just a few of the shared characteristics of military service and farming. As an added benefit, farming is a good fit for some veterans because it has the power to heal.
For farmers like Felton who experience PTSD and anxiety, farming can serve to heal by providing a way of reconnecting with nature. “On my farm, it can be just me and the livestock. I can find peace just listening to the calmness of nature around me or by just seeing the fruits of my labor, day after day,” said Felton.
Since 2019, Felton has been working with Farm Again to further his new life in the agricultural business. With a bustling 25-acre livestock farm full of pigs, chickens, goats and turkeys in Lincolnton, Georgia, he says the knowledge he has gained from the program is priceless.
“It’s enabled me to get to levels that it probably would have taken me 10 years to get to alone,” he said.
Ultimately, while the program does not directly provide funding to farmers, it offers the necessary insights that enable lifelong farmers, veterans and those entering the industry for the first time to apply for critical grants while offering innovative ways to learn about the industry and what it truly takes to sustain a career as a producer.
“We are offering veterans and these farmers a sense of accomplishment and well-being and the ability to still do field work,” said Glen Rains, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences professor and Georgia AgrAbility and Farm Again co-director. “When you get to see the results of your hard work, it just means so much.”
Exemplified by the nearly 50 veterans and more than 1,500 farm families who have benefited from Farm Again and Georgia’s AgrAbility program, innovation and education have made farming more accessible to all.
“One of the highlights of our work was one of the first times we ever put a lift on a tractor,” said Brightwell. “It’s moments like this that remind farmers that farm life is not over, it’s just a little different now.”
This story was published in Almanac, a magazine produced by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The story was written by Carlisa Johnson. Photos by Jesse Walker.