It’s fitting that Veterans Day and Thanksgiving fall within the same month, because if there’s one thing we all should be thankful for, it’s the service of our military veterans. In the 246 years since our nation was founded, our veterans have made the greatest sacrifice to protect our safety and our liberties.

Every man and woman who enrolls in the military makes a life-changing decision. They elect to step away from their daily lives, take themselves off the job market and leave their homes, families and routines to expose themselves to great risk. And when, after 3 to 30 years in the military, veterans leave the service, it can be difficult for them and their families to pick up the threads of civilian life.

Active duty military mother hugs her three daughters in front of their home.
Active duty military mother hugs her three daughters in front of their home. UF/IFAS photo.

UF/IFAS Extension works to provide opportunities and solutions for the lives of all Floridians, including the 1.4 million who have served in the military. At UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers in many parts of the state, we offer programs that give veterans the knowledge and experience to start new careers in agriculture and related fields.

Veterans Florida is a non-profit organization that helps veterans and active servicemembers successfully transition to civilian life. Since 2018, the organization has been partnering with UF/IFAS to provide veterans with training and hands-on experience in agriculture. Each research and education center brings on veterans to join field research and introduces them to agricultural production methods such as site preparation, data collection, harvesting and cropping activities. They also gain knowledge and contacts that allow them to gain employment in the ag industry. Over 100 veterans have graduated from the program and the rate of placement in agriculture has been more than 80%, according to Amy Entress Dudley, veterans employment and training services (VETS) program manager for Veterans Florida.

“We connect veterans with employers who are eager to hire them because they are reliable and dependable, and because of the skills they acquired in the military,” says Dudley.

For many veterans, it’s an opportunity to start a new life and a new career.

“Some [veterans] come from a background in agriculture and farming is something familiar to return to,” says Gary Vallad, a professor of Plant Pathology at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma, FL. “For others who are new to farming and don’t know how to get into the industry, it can be intimidating. The Veterans Florida Agriculture program gives them familiarity with the agriculture industry.”

Vallad has been working with veterans at GCREC since 2015; after forming the partnership with Veterans Florida, a USDA-NIFA grant allowed the program to expand to RECs throughout the state. Opportunities are currently offered through Veterans Florida’s DOD SkillBridge program for servicemembers who are about to retire or separate from the military. Recently, the UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory has joined the program, training veterans to embark on careers in beekeeping.

Sadly, we still live in a world where wars are fought and people are killed in villages, towns and cities all over the globe. We are extremely fortunate here in the U.S. that the lives of relatively few citizens have been lost to warfare. We are more than fortunate, we are privileged with that security, thanks to the service of our veterans and servicemembers. For that, we can be eternally grateful.

If you are an active service member looking for a new career in civilian life, whether it be agriculture or entrepreneurship, look into the Veterans Florida DOD Skillbridge program:

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Poster for Veterans Florida. Veteran holding plants in hydroponic garden


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Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert

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