SPOKANE — The Spokane Conservation District is helping Eastern Washington veterans apply their military training to farming.
Vets on the Farm is designed to help veterans transitioning from their military careers into agriculture, said Vicki Carter, district director.
“We look at both agriculture and our military as being the backbone of our country,” Carter said. “The two have this beautiful, hand-in-hand fit, where the vets are coming out with some very transferable skills.”
The district provides veterans with educational opportunities, hands-on experience, internships and mentorships. Veterans are paired with farmer-mentors and other veterans to maintain the sense of community they experience in the military, Carter said.
“It’s really a part of them, and it’s hard for them to separate from as they transition out,” she said. “We provide some of that camaraderie as well.”
In the last two years, the program expanded from Spokane to Stevens, Chelan, Douglas, Whitman, Franklin and Benton counties. Carter said Vets on the Farm has assisted more than 100 veterans.
KD Thompson, a former Army specialist, is interested in producing herbs and composting on a small scale. She gets help continuing her education and making connections.
“I didn’t know anything about drip irrigation before, now I’m kind of a pro,” she said. “Being around other veterans, too, it is kind of nice to have people who know what you’ve been through.”
Ben Parriman, a technical sergeant in the Air National Guard and Carter’s son, said he enjoys working outside and getting his hands dirty.
“This field of work is right up my alley,” he said. “I run heavy equipment, so running tractors to me is like second nature. I pick this stuff up very quickly.”
Parriman takes a sustainable farming and ranching class at a Spokane community college. He and his wife eventually want to find property, he said.
A 3-acre learning farm opened in April, producing tomatoes and small vegetables. The district may add herbs and small animals such as chickens, goats and bees for pollination and honey production.
Carter said the district wants to expand the learning farm into an incubator farm concept.
“If we can train (veterans) on a smaller scale here ... they can lease or take over existing land that’s sitting idle and be productive,” she said.
She has an “overwhelming” number of farmers willing to partner with veterans. Carter said she frequently receives emails and calls.
Carter said the biggest needs include a small tractor, wheelbarrows and power tools.
Farmers can donate to sponsor a veteran, she said.
“This is great, but they can’t work for free, they need to make a living while they’re learning,” she said.
The district is seeking $345,000 in state funding to put veteran-farmers on projects in 12 counties. The request includes a state coordinator and a full-time employee in each county.