CRAFTSBURY COMMON -- Building on the growing interest of veterans in farming at a time when the Department of Labor reports that the nation's farmers are nearing retirement with an average age of 56, Sterling College has announced the creation of the Veteran College-to-Farm Program.
Sterling was among the first institutions in the United States to focus on sustainable practices in agriculture and, starting this fall, veterans that complete a degree in Sustainable Agriculture or Sustainable Food Systems at the Vermont college will receive a $10,000 grant to launch a farm or food business.
"We are proud to launch this first-of-its-kind program and enlist veterans in furthering a more sustainable future for farming," said Sterling College President Matthew Derr. "With these grants, Sterling will help start the post-service careers of veterans who will redesign the nation's food system into one based in environmental stewardship that is more just, healthy, and doesn't exacerbate climate change."
Eligibility to join the first cohort is limited to veterans who are admitted and enroll at Sterling College for September 2015. Assistance with post-graduation careers in food entrepreneurship will be augmented by continued support from the Center for an Agricultural Economy and Yankee Farm Credit.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy, based in Hardwick, will offer business and technical services for farm and food businesses started by veterans. Through its multi-use shared food business incubator, the Vermont Food Venture Center, veterans will have access to food safety training and regulatory assistance, industrial production kitchens, and specialized food business advising, such as marketing, nutritional labeling, and more.
"With our shared-use food hub facility, we've worked with over 200 specialty food and farm products in the past four years," said Sarah Waring, executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy. "The range of services can be tailored to meet the needs of each veteran's specific enterprise. With this new program, we're thrilled to partner with Sterling to provide support as the next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs is fostered in Vermont and beyond."
In collaboration with Sterling's partners at Yankee Farm Credit's Farm Start program, each veteran who meets the criteria of the program will also be provided with access to business and finance planning consulting and management development programs. Additionally, based on creditworthiness, qualified participants will be eligible for the FarmStart program which includes up to a $50,000 working capital investment, a personal FarmStart advisor, and a written business plan.
"Yankee Farm Credit is enthusiastic to collaborate in the launch of the Veteran College-to-Farm Program at Sterling," said George Putnam, president and CEO of Yankee Farm Credit. "We are proud to work with America's farmer veterans and look forward to this partnership to help support the transition from service to college and then to launching farm businesses where veterans will continue to serve their neighbors and communities."