Ag Workshop Planned For Veterans, Farmers


For generations, America's veterans would return from their military service to work the family farm.  With the family farm in decline, however, many veterans come home wanting to farm but not having anyone to teach them.

The upcoming "From Service to Stewardship" event, Friday and Saturday, April 7-8, at the Virginia Horse Center, seeks to remedy that. 

Aimed at veterans but welcoming all, the two-day workshop series will train individuals in the basics of farming.  Topics include understanding flood plains and soils, choosing and raising livestock and poultry breeds, and developing feeding and watering systems.  Farming on leased land will also be covered.  Learning will be hands-on, with classes taught by master farmers.  Upon finishing, participants will be connected with resources in their community to help them navigate the next steps in their journey to farming.

Experienced farmers are also encouraged to attend and will be offered classes in butchering, curing, tanning, sheep-shearing, and wool processing skills, biosecurity and sanitation methods, breeding techniques and business/marketing plans.

For the full roster of offerings and to register, see

The event is sponsored by the Livestock Conservancy, a North Carolina-based organization tasked with preserving America's historic or "heritage" farm breeds.

Many of these breeds are now under threat of extinction.  But heritage breeds have genes that protect them from certain diseases and environmental changes that breeds used in industrial scale farming do not have.  Thus, farming with heritage breeds will be emphasized due to their importance in protecting the domestic food supply, a spokesman said.

For many veterans, working with these breeds is a big part of their desire to farm.  "Veterans are especially suited for heritage breed agriculture due to our unique connection with the heritage of our country," says Althea Raiford, a past workshop attendee. "For many of us, farming and being in the military is part of our personal heritage and pride in being an American."

One worry many would-be farmers have is the lack of a large tract of land.  But Alison Martin, head of the Livestock Conservancy, insists that this need not be a deterrent.  "Many of our veteran-farmers are feeding their families on as little as an acre - or even what they can raise in their backyard.  Chickens and rabbits don't take up much space."

Martin also feels that veterans are particularly suited to farming.

“Their military training teaches them discipline and planning.  They learn to focus on the mission and then execute the mission."

When Martin came to town last spring to visit a friend, Stephanie Wilkinson of Main Street Lexington made sure she also toured the Virginia Horse Center.  She was so impressed by the facilities that the decision was made to hold the 2017 workshop here.  This is the fourth veterans' farming workshop for Livestock Conservancy, but the first to be held in Lexington.  Martin, who holds a doctorate in poultry science, will be on hand at the workshop.

The News-Gazette

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