Veterans answer a new calling: organic farming

Brandon Barnhart, an Air Force veteran, completed the Organic Farming Program in 2014.

Jun 25, 2014

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population defends us and about 2 percent of the country is made up of farmers. Those who are called to serve their country in the military are people who care about the larger picture and helping others. Brandon Barnhart, is part of both of those two important groups. He’s an Air Force veteran who served for eight years of active duty and is now taking on a new mission; feeding people organically to maintain and restore the natural world.

In May 2014, Barnhart graduated from the Organic Farming Program, a 36-credit, one-year certificate program offered through a partnership between Delaware Valley College and Rodale Institute. The program is designed to offer military veterans a quick pathway to transition to a new career in the rapidly growing field of organic agriculture. Veterans covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill can train for careers in organic agriculture at no cost and receive a stipend for living expenses while they’re learning the business.

The College and Rodale Institute are hosting a BBQ and information session for veterans July 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rodale Institute. The event will offer a chance for veterans who are interested in organic farming to meet current participants and staff and learn more about the program. A background in farming is not required and anyone who is interested is welcome to attend. Guests will go on a tour of Rodale Institute from 11 a.m. to noon and then, enjoy a BBQ with people involved in the program from noon to 2 p.m. All guests will receive gift bags and program information.

Credit: Allure West Studios. From Left: Army veteran and participant Mickey S., Rodale staff member Molly Sweitzer and Army Veteran and program participant Mike Walker during the summer 2014 session at Rodale.

In the Organic Farming Program, participants spend two semesters at DelVal and a summer at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. They take courses such as Commercial Vegetable Production, Organic Food and Fiber and Principles of Sustainable Agriculture.

They gain hands-on experience and finish the program with the skills they need to work for an organic operation or, start their own businesses. Currently, there are three veterans in the program, and there is space to accommodate 10 for the fall semester.

Barnhart said he was impressed by the variety of topics the courses cover and the flexibility. He worked with staff to make sure his time at DelVal covered the topics he’s most interested in.

He’s taking a solid business plan with him and Barnhart is hopeful about the future.

“I wouldn’t have completed this program if I didn’t think it would be profitable and rewarding,” said Barnhart.

Register for the Veterans Organic Farming Program Information Session BBQ!

Learn More About the Organic Farming Program