Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce
Veterans to Farmers Program
I recently attended graduation ceremonies for the first cohort of the Veterans to Farmers pilot training program. Fourteen 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.
The Veterans to Farmers training program is a community-based pilot initiative that will soon evolve into a new UH Hilo Certificate in Agriculture program designed solely for U.S. military veterans. The program will provide a 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 Benefits Administration of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the UH Hilo certificate program will be eligible for veterans to use their GI Bill education benefits. Local organizers are currently working with the VA on a start date of UH Hilo’s certificate program.
The State Department of Labor—and its director Dwight Takamine in particular—has been instrumental in launching Hawai‘i’s Veterans to Farmers program. Partners in facilitating the program are Rivertop Energy Solutions (a project-planning firm run by David Ruf assisting with development of the initiative), Hawai‘i Community College, the State Department of Agriculture, 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 faculty provided technical assistance in the pilot training program.
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 certificate 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.
A lot of the hands-on field training in the pilot program—such as greenhouse building—took place at Wow Farms in Waimea, and that type activity will continue once the UH Hilo Certificate in Agriculture is underway. UH Hilo faculty and lecturers will teach the credit courses in Waimea, and the lab requirements—chemical analysis labs and so forth—will be held at UH Hilo’s North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center in Honoka‘a.
There will be seven baccalaureate level courses required including Value Added Ag Products or Man’s Food, Agro-Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Agriculture, Student Managed Farm Enterprise Project or Directed Work Experience Program, Farm Management, Farm Power, and Principles of Horticulture. Flexibility will be built into the program for substitutions, so, for instance, if a student wants to focus on raising cattle, his or her curriculum could be adjusted to give the student the proper education to meet those business goals.
The Veterans to Farmers program is good for veterans and good for the state. Farmers will play a crucial role in the future economic stability of our island and our state as we move toward food security. The U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration wants to see veterans earn advanced degrees to open up opportunities that allow for full participation in society. The Veterans to Farmers program gives veterans the education they need to create their own small businesses on their own farms—it gives them work in which to thrive while supporting their families. I see great potential for this program to grow and expand throughout our island and state.