Vet-to-vet, farmer-to-farmer mentoring available in agriculture

Opportunities for Lapeer County veterans considering a career in agriculture are getting a boost from their peers.

Agriculture is a growing area of interest for most Americans because it fills a basic need for food. In Michigan, agriculture is a $100 billion industry with expanding opportunities. Growing, marketing and processing foods are all areas of growth in agriculture. Farming is indeed a big business in Lapeer County. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lapeer County has 1,133 local farms covering 175,000 acres with a market value of products sold totaling more than $113 million.

This expanding agricultural industry is also attracting more veterans who are returning from active duty. Michigan State University Extension recognizes the need for more programs that focus on assisting veterans transitioning to agricultural careers. Locally, MSU Extension, the Lapeer County Department of Veterans Affairs and local farmer veterans are teaming up to provide a hands-on mentoring program for veterans. Local veteran farmers are volunteering their time and energy to assist their fellow veterans, mentoring them on what it takes to be successful in farming.

“This is an exciting project and its biggest feature is it involves vets helping vets,” said Edward L. Ronders, director of Lapeer County Veterans Affairs. “It provides the personal touch and hands-on mentoring by other veterans. A win-win situation. A veteran’s best resource is his fellow veteran.”

Ronders noted that operating a farm is the same as operating a business. Other programs, such as the Michigan Veterans, assist veterans in starting and expanding a business and several models incorporate the vet-to-vet mentoring program.

“It’s a natural,” he said. “You’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with a brother. That’s an extremely valuable tool.”

One of the current trends is to enter into agriculture by either starting a small farm or working for a larger commercial farm. Both models have advantages and disadvantages for the beginning farmer. While there are many ways to be successful in agriculture, the different perspective and experience learned by going through something can only be done over time. Hands-on experience working with mentors is one of the best ways to learn and provides invaluable training to the beginning farmer minimizing common mistakes.

A series of lunch-and-learn workshops, provided through a grant from United Way of Lapeer County, will kick-off the program.

Veterans who are interested in learning more about agricultural opportunities are encouraged to attend one of the four lunch-and-learn meetings. Veteran farmers will be on-hand to talk to fellow veterans and explain agricultural opportunities. Each meeting will have veterans who currently farm available to talk to those attending.

The meetings are scheduled to start at 12 p.m. at the Silver Grill Family Restaurant, 535 N. Cedar St, Imlay City, MI 48444. Lunch is provided courtesy of the Lapeer County Department of Veterans Affairs and the United Way. The meetings are:

  • Friday, March 3, 2017
  • Friday, March 10, 2017
  • Friday, March 17, 2017
  • Friday, March 31, 2017

There is no fee for attending or for lunch, but registration is strongly recommended. To register, call Veterans Affairs at 810-667-0256 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). For more information, contact Phil Kaatz, MSU Extension, at 810-667-0341 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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