Swords Into Ploughshares: An organic farming program for returning veterans

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An aerial view of the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa. | Image via growingagreenerworld.com | Story by Liz Pacheco

Josh Brown, a 28-year-old Marine, recently found himself unemployed—a situation that’s all-too-common for America’s veterans. Before being laid off from his job as an equipment delivery driver, Brown had thought about going back to school. However, he didn’t seriously consider the option until he talked with Dennis Rilling, a Marine Corps veteran who’s now program coordinator for Delaware Valley College’s new Veteran Organic Farming Program. “You have one in three veterans unemployed right now,” says Riling, who graduated from DelVal with a horticulture degree last spring. But thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, school is now a more viable option for many veterans. DelVal is a Yellow Ribbon Program school, which means veterans are eligible to have 100 percent of their tuition covered by the bill—plus a stipend for housing.

Even with tuition covered, convincing veterans to enroll in traditional degree programs can be difficult. “Veterans are having a hard time transitioning into a college with a four-year degree,” says Riling. “A lot of guys can’t dedicate four years going back to school—some have families, it’s a lot to take on.” With this in mind, DelVal designed the organic farming program to be only a year long.

The 36-course specialization is offered in partnership with the Rodale Institute, an organic farming research nonprofit. Students take courses in topics like animal science, organic crop science, integrated pest management and business plan development. During the summer semester, students will get hands-on experience at Rodale’s 333-acre farm in Kutztown, Pa.

“As far as the program,” says Brown, “it’s just a great way for veterans to get involved in organic farming… to learn how to do it and what goes into it and then, reach out in the world and get a job.” After completing the program, students will be qualified for jobs in the food industry, with organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or even start an organic farm.

To learn more about the program, visit delval.edu