Connecting Soldiers with the Land: The first Southern California Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair comes to Santa Monica
The Farmer Veteran Coalition have their first Southern California Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair on Wednesday June 30th at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The purpose of the event is to connect returning veterans with viable jobs, internships, training programs and two and four year colleges in the food and farming industry throughout Southern California.
The goal of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is to create a clearinghouse for job opportunities on farms and in farm-related fields, and work with individual veterans to find those jobs that fit their specific interests. This includes employment in regional farms, urban farming and school garden projects, the wholesale produce, landscaping and ornamental industries as well as area food artisans: bakers, butchers, cheese makers and chefs. “Many veterans come from rural areas, having grown up or worked on farms before their military service. We providing a gateway to go back into the world of farming,” notes Cliff Figallo, Director of Media and Communications for the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
“It’s about providing opportunities through creating connections,” explains Cliff Figallo. “Veterans will have the opportunity to obtain information on how to be a chef, work in food distribution, or work at a farmers market. “ Exhibits at the career fair range from educational to mentoring to interning, including opportunities for veterans to intern on a working farm so they can see first hand what it entails to be a farmer.”
The Farmer Veteran Coalition states, “We want to mobilize the employers in Los Angeles’ enormous fresh produce distribution and processing industry; its growing urban farming and good food networks; Southern California’s regional farms; the ornamental and landscaping industry; and the culinary trades of cooking, baking and butchery to open their doors to well deserving and highly capable American veterans.”
Along with creating connections there will also be eight veterans speaking at the Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair who have enter the food and farming industry since returning from their duties. These include servicemen and women who have since found employment at farms in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the Greater Bay area, and an organic farm in Nevada. One such speaker is Marine veteran Colin Archipley, owner of Archie’s Acres a small-scale farm located in Valley Center, California, just outside of San Diego. Since starting his sustainable bio-hydroponic farm in 2007 Archipley has been providing jobs for other returning veterans.
Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair seems a win win for both parties involved. “We have thousands of veterans coming back from their duty looking for jobs, especially the younger soldiers,” explains Figallo. “Farming, at the moment, is a profession that is in the decline. Only six percent of farmers are under thirty five years of age.” The Farmer-Veteran Coalition notes, “Our agricultural sector needs young entrepreneurial, trained individuals to revitalize the industry and begin new farm operations. America’s farms are facing a crisis for lack of young people going into agriculture.” Most statistics point to the average American farmer being between 55 and 58 years old with two farmers retiring for every one entering the field. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics 2006 report, there are roughly 1.3 million working farmers in the United States. This study projects a continued decline in both the number of farmers and farms.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition touts the Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair as an ideal opportunity for employers to find earnest workers. “Men and women willing to work hard through cultivated work ethic, discipline, and focus; who possess a sense of sacrifice and service; and are eager to learn a new trade.” Farm related careers are also beneficial for the returning soldiers. “The veterans attest it’s a great profession to be in. Especially since they just came out of the military so they’re used to the weird hours that a farmer has to keep,” states Figallo. “It can also be very therapeutic for veterans who have issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since they are working in the outdoors, away from crowds. It can be quite rewarding to be breathing fresh air and working with living things everyday.”
This is the second career fair hosted by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, the first was held in Santa Rosa, located in Sonoma County, in March of this year. “It’s definitely a much larger scale than Santa Rosa event. We have great expectations to connect veterans with job in the farming community and industries.“ The Santa Rosa event hosted 140 plus veterans, representing military generations going back to WWII, with many Viet Nam veterans as well as younger vets with service in the past decade.
Attendance to the event is free with healthy food provided by local farmers as coordinated through the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Seed money for the Santa Monica event was sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation, the Goldhirsh Foundation, and comedian Lewis Black the Farming. Supporters of the event included the California AgrAbility Program, California FarmLink, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Los Angeles Slow Food, National Center for Sustainable Agriculture (NCAT), New Directions, Salvation Army, Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Teaching Garden, The City of Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment, Veteran Business Outreach Center, and the USDA Farm Service Agency.
The event also offered assistance to those starting their own farms and food related businesses. There will be on-site counseling to all veterans. Aid in resume preparations was also offered prior to event.
The long term goal of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is to reach 10,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and support those returning to farming while introducing others to farming as a vocation. The Farmer Veteran Coalition notes that, “almost two million young men and women have served in our military since 9-11. Many are entering the work force facing unemployment at rates much higher than the already troubling numbers of the general public. The opening of your farm, your business and your heart to these deserving men and women is not only the right thing to do – it makes good business sense.”
Kat Thomas is an adventurer and writer in Santa Monica. Her Food Blog is the Edible Skinny (www.edibleskinny.com)