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In the Next 5 Years America Will Need a Million New Farmers - Could Army Veterans Fill the Gap?

This innovative training program is betting on it.

The average US farmer age has risen steadily over the last 30 years, placing the typical farmer at age 60. One million farmers stand to retire over the next 5 years—and the number of young farmers has been steadily dwindling. Unless more young farmers step up to take the place of those that retire, 400 million acres of farmland could disappear, and with it, the nation's food security.

At the same time, U.S. veterans —45% of whom come from rural areas—face unemployment when they return home from active duty.

 

The Rodale Institute, a non-profit organic research farm in eastern Pennsylvania, is tackling both problems with an innovative program that transforms veterans into organic farmers. 

THESE SISTERS ARE 2016 GRADUATES OF THE PROGRAM

When they were children in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Jessika and Kristen Greendeer loved to slip out of the house just after sunrise during summer to plunge into neighboring Mirror Lake State Park, where in the mornings the water was still and the forest was warm and dewy. The sisters were born into the Ho-Chunk Nation 23 months apart, Jessika followed by Kristen, but they were twinlike in the fierceness of their bond. They invented games in the woods and swam and played army, but they rarely fought for real.

“If we did,” Kristen says, “within 5 minutes one of us would crack a joke and it would be over.”

In 2004, when they were in their twenties, the sisters decided to sign up for the U.S Army through the Buddy Program, which allows recruits to join and enter basic training together. Their work pulled them apart—Jessika went to Iraq as a public affairs officer and Kristen stayed in Germany doing logistics work—but they talked constantly on Skype. When they got out—Kristen first, then Jessika in 2014—the question became: What do we do next?

 

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