Military veterans and farmers find support through the National AgrAbility Project

Gloria Hafemeister
Sara Creech, U.S. Air Force says military veterans are always looking for that next mission. 
"...and with farming I think that mission is to provide healthy food to our communities.”

TOMAH ‒ The National AgrAbility Project has provided vital education, technical assistance and support to farmers and ranchers with disabilities for over 30 years.

Recognizing the physical and emotional challenges often faced by military veterans upon returning to civilian life, AgrAbility supports all military veterans who are interested in transitioning into farming or other agriculture careers. 

AgrAbility maintains strong ties with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a national nonprofit seeking to create a new generation of farmers and food leaders by helping veterans pursue careers in agriculture and offering them a new purpose on America’s farms.

Its in-house programs include annual equipment grants, the Homegrown By Heroes branding label for veteran-grown products, and conferences that provide resources to enhance veterans’ farming pursuits.  Since over half its membership has a service-related disability, FVC partners closely with AgrAbility to support these farmer veterans.

AgrAbility's in-house programs includes the Homegrown By Heroes branding label for veteran-grown products.

The USDA’s Veteran’s Affairs pilot program for Food and Agriculture Rehabilitation and Employment Support (VA FARMS) also provides therapeutic and supported employment services for veterans. 

A stated vision of VA FARMS is: “Veterans will improve their health and well-being and thrive in their communities through increased access to training opportunities in agricultural fields, meaningful therapeutic work and whole health care.”

The organization partners with community organizations to provide high quality education, on-the-job training therapeutic interventions, and whole health care. 

MORE: Eau Claire couple uses apple orchard and more to help fellow veterans

During a recent conference sponsored by Wisconsin AgrAbility, Karen Endres and Kevin Plante of the Wisconsin  Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Farm Center described their efforts to work with any farmer in need of assistance and also the program that works specifically with veterans.

The Wisconsin Farm Center is able to assist by providing access to resources, offering guidance on developing a business plan to help kick-start a farm, and offering a differentiated veteran farmer logo that can be used on agricultural products. In Wisconsin, that logo is a combination of the Home Grown by Heroes and Something Special from Wisconsin logo.

Describing the help available through the Farm Center, Plante said succession planning and farm transition services help farm families save on the cost of hiring an attorney to do the planning.  “Human details are an issue as well as financial issues,” Plante said.

Services provided by the Farm Center are confidential.

The Farm Wellness Program provides tele-counseling services, counseling vouchers and an on-line Farmer Support group. The Farm Wellness hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Through a strong network of counselors, free and confidential help is available. On-line support groups are also available, with participation up to the individual. 

Endres says someone in need of support can do so by providing only a first name and leaving the camera off, or they can provide their full name and utilize the camera for a more personal conversation with others in the group.  The online support group can accommodate up to 8 people at a time.

When a call comes into the Farm Center for help Endres strives to match the person calling with the type of help they really need. As a farm wife and mother, she understands the stresses of farming and the emotions that go with it.

She stresses that when a farmer calls the Farm Center for help, the conversations are legally confidential. “No one can subpoena for information," she assured.

Endres and Plante described the services available through the Farm Center including conflict mediation, farmer wellness and veteran services. The Center is a source of general information on these services.

Looking for help?

For help with any of the services provided through the Farm Center contact them at:

  • Wisconsin Farm Center: (800) 942-2474 and
  • 24/7 Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Helpline: (888) 901-2558. Available any time, any day to provide support to farmers struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety, or simply needing a welcoming voice to talk to.
  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988 OR live chat at 24/7 lifeline provides free and confidential support and resources to anyone experiencing a crisis situation, or needing assistance helping a loved one in distress.
  • HopeLine Text Service: Text HOPELINE to 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or Text 838255