Spots available in DelVal’s Veteran Organic Farming Program
Stories of veterans returning from service only to be turned away for job after job bother Dennis Riling on a personal level.
The Marine veteran is coordinating a program at Delaware Valley College in partnership with the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to organic agriculture, to prepare young veterans to enter the growing field of organic farming. He’s looking for Post 9/11 veterans who would want to enroll. Under the GI Bill, Post 9/11 veterans can attend the one-year certificate program free of cost while receiving a housing stipend.
Those who register by May 28 can start the program this June.
“Young veterans aren’t reaching out to the VA as much,” said Riling. “We want to reach young veterans who are struggling to find work and prepare them for a new mission. A mission to feed a growing population in a healthy, sustainable way.”
Josh Brown, a Marine veteran who was deployed twice to Afghanistan, was the first veteran to enroll. He will finish his certificate in organic farming in August.
Brown knows how rough the job market can be.
“It was kind of a struggle,” said Brown. “It was stressful not knowing how I was going to pay my bills. Everywhere I looked for jobs it was already the same jobs I’d been turned down for.”
After getting out of the military in July 2010, he took any jobs he could get. He tried car sales, and worked as a driver for a construction company, but couldn’t find something he really enjoyed doing where he could get hired.
Employers hiring for jobs he wanted, like security positions, told him he wasn’t qualified or experienced enough.
He left his job as a driver and got in touch with Riling about three weeks later.
“I had no money coming in at all,” said Brown. “So, I was open to ideas. Dennis brought up the program.”
He would encourage young veterans in a similar situation to enroll.
I would tell other veterans to consider the program,” said Brown. “ You get paid to do it and the amount of money coming in is about what I was making at the jobs I was getting. Instead of working a dead end job you don’t care for, learn about something you’re interested in and get paid to do it.”
Spots are available on a first come, first served basis and the program can accommodate about 10 veterans this summer. The College is also enrolling veterans for the fall semester.
Brown said that he received about $1785 a month to cover housing and other bills like car insurance while he was enrolled. He also received a book allowance to cover any supplies he needed.
“Staff at the College helped with the funding paperwork and it really jump-started the program for me,” said Brown.
In the 36-credit program, he is learning about a variety of topics such as: animal science, organic food production, and marketing of horticultural products. He’s also getting hands-on experience.
When veterans finish the program, the College offers help with job placement or creating a business plan for an organic operation.
Brandon Barnhart , an Air Force veteran, who served for eight years of active duty, is moving from West College Corner, Ind., to start the program this summer.
He has a three-acre farm in Indiana, which he hopes to run using what he learns.
“I’m hoping to set up some hydroponic greenhouses,” said Barnhart . “I figure that will give me the best bang for the buck for producing produce year round. I’d also like to get a few animals.”
He was impressed by the variety of topics the courses cover and the flexibility. He’s been working with Riling to make sure the program will cover what he is most interested in.
“Dennis has been very helpful and he is very knowledgeable,” said Barnhart . “They’re talking about switching some hydroponic courses in.”
When he got out of the military in 2010 he went right into school and earned a bachelor’s degree.
“I’ve been to a few job fairs, but I’d rather be out here on the farm,” said Barnhart . “I was going to have to move to a city I didn’t care to be in and work in a job that wasn’t going to be as rewarding as farming, so that’s why I’m looking to make a go at this.”
He’s excited to start and aiming to come out with a solid business plan.
Barnhart is hopeful about the future.
“I wouldn’t be doing this program if I didn’t think it would be profitable and rewarding,” said Barnhart .