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Armed to Urban Farm program helping veterans transition to farming

In nine years, the “Armed to Farm” program has trained more than 800 veterans in agriculture across the country - in California, Montana, Texas, Ohio, Maryland and New York, among other states.
Thanks to a partnership between the U.S. Botanic Garden and other agencies, a group of veterans are learning all in the ins and outs of what it's like to farm in the middle of a city - in this case, Memphis.
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 18 million military veterans in the U.S. Around 386,000 of them are unemployed, with more than half of them - 56% - between the ages of 25 to 54.
The program's urban farming component began more recently and includes classroom instruction, where veterans learn not just farming techniques, but also how to create a business plan for their farm.
Posted at 8:56 AM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 09:28:50-04

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In small lots and in backyards, something is taking root in a program called Armed to Urban Farm.

"We train veterans who are interested in urban agriculture versus sort of rural agriculture," said Mike Lewis, with the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Thanks to a partnership between, NCAT, The U.S. Botanic Garden and other agencies, veterans are learning all the ins and outs of what it's like to farm in the middle of a city. In this case— Memphis.

“They're here to learn and connect with each other and see what they might be able to take back to their own operations,” said U.S. Botanic Garden education specialist Emily Hestness.

U.S. Army veteran Charley Jordan spent more than 28 years in the service.

"I saw how agriculture was therapeutic,” he said. “It was helpful for me and I figured this must be helpful for other veterans."

With his service dog, Dagger, by his side, he now runs a flower farm in Tennessee but joined this week-long program because he is interested in doing more.

"Just recently, I completed a certificate in horticulture therapy from the University of Tennessee,” Jordan said. “So, I'm slowly moving on to working more with veterans and mental health and using plants as healing."

In nine years, the Armed to Farm program has trained more than 800 veterans in agriculture across the country, including in California, Montana, Texas, Ohio, Maryland, and New York, among other states.

Mike Lewis, a sustainable agriculture specialist for the National Center for Appropriate Technology, helps run the program. He's also a veteran with a farm and understands the transition required.

"A disproportionate number of our veterans today come from rural farming communities,” he said.

The urban farming component began more recently and includes classroom instruction, where veterans learn not just farming techniques but also how to create a business plan for their farm.

"This isn't easy. I struggle every day on my farm. Things go wrong every day," Lewis said. "There's a serious amount of situational awareness that's required. You have to pay attention to your environment and your surroundings, and it's something that never stops, right? So, if you're in the military, the job never stops and farming is one of those things that never stops."

For U.S. Army veteran Colleen Beelman, the program presents a way to learn more about growing produce for her family, and also potentially earn an income.

“Finding good, fresh produce is really hard," Beelman said. "My baby this summer has been my wildflower gardens. To be like, 'Hey, wait, I can make money with my wildflower garden? Yes? Okay! Thank you!'”

It's an enthusiasm those behind the program hope these veterans will take home with them, as part of a growing community of veteran farmers.

"I think that we see a food system that needs work and repair,” Lewis said, “and we think that if you've already started the hardest job in the world, why can't we transition you into the second?"