First-of-its-Kind Program Allows Veterans to Use Military Benefits While Receiving Job Training on the Farm
Western New York Farm is First in the State to Participate in the Program
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of an on-the-job training program for military veterans interested in careers in the agricultural industry. This training opportunity expands the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs’ On-the-Job Training initiative to allow veterans to use their military benefits while obtaining useful job skills on the farm. With assistance from Cornell Small Farms Program, Western New York’s Kreher’s Farm in Clarence, has been approved as the first farm in the state to offer this program to veterans. Additional farms across the state are encouraged to apply to participate in the program.
“Veterans across New York have sacrificed so much for the safety and liberty of this state and country. It is our honor to support these brave men and women who answered the call to protect our nation and the principles it was founded upon,” Governor Cuomo said. “This program will open new doors and not only offer on-the-farm training for veterans, it will support increased agricultural production to provide local food to communities across the state. I congratulate Kreher’s Farm for participating in the program and encourage other farms across the state to join.”
The New York State Beginning Farmers Workgroup, established by Governor Cuomo in 2014, identified the need for an on-the-job training program for veterans who want to pursue careers in farming and agriculture. The Workgroup’s discussions lead the Farm Ops initiative of the Cornell Small Farms Program to work with the DVA to expand its existing On-the-Job Training (OJT) program to include New York farms. Prior to this, OJT was utilized almost exclusively by electricians, plumbers, and other skilled trades. The program offers veterans rewarding career opportunities as they transition out of military service, while also providing employers with qualified workers. During their training, veterans are paid wages and also receive their Military Housing Allowance through their GI Bill benefits, which helps offset the cost of living.
Interested farms must submit an application and training outline to the DVA. The outline should include skills that will be learned and duties the veteran will complete during training. The training period will last from six months to two years and farms should be in a position to hire the veteran full-time at the end of their training. Staff with Cornell Small Farms will assist farmers in applying for the program. Once an application is approved, Cornell Small Farms will also help match those farms with interested veterans.
Learn more about the program and how to participate here. Farmers interested in offering on-the-job training are encouraged to contact Cornell education support specialist Dean Koyanagi at [email protected] or 607-255-9911.
Last month, the DVA approved Kreher’s Farm as the first New York farm to offer an on-the-job training program. Kreher’s Farm is a leading egg operation and the largest organic grain producer in the state. Veterans looking to apply for an OJT position at Kreher’s Farm can apply online here.
Funding for this program is provided by the New York State Legislature through the work of Senator Pattie Ritchie, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York State Farm Viability Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Patty Ritchie said, “Members of our military make tremendous sacrifices, and it’s so important that we are there for them after they are finished serving, to provide them with the support they need to pursue new opportunities in their civilian life. Not only does this program help to introduce veterans to potential careers in farming, it also serves to strengthen and protect the future of New York State’s leading industry.”
Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Bill Magee said, "Our veterans sacrifice so much for our freedom, it's imperative that we do all we can to ensure they have the same opportunities when they come home. This program is a terrific chance for veterans to find successful careers in a thriving industry."
State Agriculture Commissioner Ball said, “Every year thousands of veterans who bravely served our country are honorably discharged from the military. Despite their strong work ethic and unique skills, many of them have a hard time finding a job when they get home. At the same time, there’s a shortage of skilled, dependable workers across the state, particularly in the agricultural industry. This program helps connect the dots by providing valuable job training for our veterans to help ensure a strong agricultural workforce while supporting the next generation of farming in New York.”
Eric Hesse, Director of New York State Division of Veteran Affairs said, “This is another great opportunity for the veterans of New York State. We would like to thank both Cornell and Kreher’s farms for taking the steps necessary to become the first farm in New York to be approved to offer eligible veterans an opportunity to use their GI Bill while receiving on-the-job training. As the agricultural industry continues to grow in New York, we would like to see more Veterans take advantage of this opportunity and look forward to encouraging more farms to work with Veterans who are eligible for the program.”
Dr. Anu Rangarajan, Director of the Cornell Small Farms Program said, “Our Cornell Farm Ops program connects military veterans with the resources and networks they need to be successful as entrepreneurs or employees in agriculture. We are thrilled to join forces with established New York farms to expand the opportunities for veterans to find meaningful work and call New York home.”
Mike Kreher, Partner of Kreher’s Farm said, “Veterans have sacrificed a lot for our country and our freedom. On their return, they have a lot to offer communities and prospective employers. Veterans develop many skills in the military that are valuable in the workplace. It is important that we, as employers, do what we can to support our returning service men and women so that they come home to jobs and opportunity.”
Jim Bittner, Chair of the New York State Farm Viability Institute said, “NYFVI has provided funding for the Beginning Farmer Program in New York since 2006. We are proud to have provided the matching funds that made the USDA grant possible and that the program is now benefiting our military heroes and giving them an opportunity in agriculture. Our board looks at this program as a great investment in returning veterans and in New York agriculture.”
John Lemondes, Chair of the New York State Farmer Veteran Coalition said, “As chair of the NYS Farmer Veteran Coalition, I am personally excited to see this opportunity take hold. The OJT program itself, is indicative of the intersection of many challenges our state and country face and provides a means to mitigate them. Additionally, it mobilizes a subset of our U.S. population, their intellectual capital, skills and experience to fill a critical void that very few people are aware of or understand, yet everyone requires for basic survival-- food production. Above all, I am happy to see emphasis on beginning farmers because of the exceptionally difficult entry barriers across the spectrum of agriculture.”
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets works closely with several partners, including Cornell University and its Small Farms Program, to identify innovative opportunities for new and beginning farmers, including veterans. In addition, an online guide for new farmers is available and includes information on state regulations, job training, land ownership, farm financing, marketing, and more. This resource was created as a result of the State’s Beginning Farmer Workgroup.