Pilot Veterans to Farmers program is a community-based initiative that will evolve into a new UH Hilo certificate in agriculture designed solely for U.S. military veterans.
Chancellor Don Straney recently attended graduation ceremonies for the first cohort of the Veterans to Farmers training program. The 14 graduates received their training certificates in Waimea on Jan 5 at an event attended by family, friends, and Hawai‘i island and state dignitaries including representatives, senators, Mayor Billy Kenoi, and Governor Neil Abercrombie.
Among Saturday’s attendees was University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Don Straney, who described the program as an “anti-plantation.”
“A crucial question is, how do we recruit the next generation of agri-business people?” Straney said. “After the (sugar) plantations left, farming has almost become a dirty word. … We’re showing them that that’s not the kind of farming we’re doing today. They’re not working for someone else’s farm. They’re creating their own small business from the land. Something to thrive with, and to support their family.”
The Veterans to Farmers training program is a community-based pilot initiative that will evolve into a new UH Hilo certificate in agriculture designed solely for U.S. military veterans. The program will provide hands-on farming skills training curriculum, classroom-based business training, business start-up support, and health monitoring for veterans. Once the curriculum is formally approved by the Veterans Administration, the UH Hilo certificate program will be eligible for veterans to use their GI Bill education benefits. A start date of the UH Hilo certificate program has not yet been finalized with the VA.
Partners in facilitating the Veterans to Farmers program are Rivertop Energy Solutions (a project-planning firm assisting with development of the initiative), Hawai‘i Community College, the State Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Mealani Research Station, the Pu‘ukapu Agricultural Community Facility, Native Hawaiian leaders and organizations, several community-based groups, Wow Farm and other local farmers in Waimea on the Big Island. UH Hilo’s involvement in this first pilot training program was limited to technical advice.
A key goal of the UH Hilo certificate program will be to enable veterans to develop the necessary skills to farm while also addressing the difficulties many face in transitioning back to civilian life after military service. Completion of the program can enable veterans to create new farm businesses, and to meet the requirements to acquire the leases and loans needed to start a farm. Some participants who complete the certificate program will be ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree at UH Hilo in addition to becoming farmers.
One of the goals of this graduating cohort is to become teachers for subsequent cohorts. A group of community leaders and government officials met after the day’s festivities to talk about expanding the training program to Molokai.