Many veterans come from rural counties and after their service, returning to work in agriculture is similar such as leadership, organization, and attention to detail.
Amy Ferkey, who helped establish the Veteran Affairs Farms program a few years ago and is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the VA Hospital in Madison, says the purpose of the VA Farms program is to help veterans with resources, education, and to help maintain their overall health.
Not only are the skills related, but Ferkey says, “Things in agriculture are very much related to things that they would have done in service.” With living in a rural community, veterans appreciate working in agriculture. “The qualities of farming are very attractive to our veterans such as working for themselves, working for a greater purpose or mission, enjoying being in the outdoors, and working for others and ultizing thier skills in order to provide a product for others to be able to enjoy” Ferkey says.
There are 4 main services VA Farms provide. One service VA Farms offers is assistance with formal education. Partnerships with colleges is important and Ferkey says it, “helps veterans within our program to be connected to those different educational programs.”
Another service is hands-on work training with farms in southern Wisconsin. Ferkey says, “Veterans can choose depending on what their goals are and what they’d like to work in.”
The mentorships program is also vital to the VA Farms program with matching veterans to a farmer. “If they have a specific goal that they feel they would just benefit for more guidance they can match them with an experienced farmer” Ferkey says.
The final piece is connecting the veteran to health care. “Not just the physical health care” Ferkey says since they are, “looking at the whole health model at the Madison VA shifting from asking to ‘What’s the matter?’ to ‘What matters most to you?’”
Overall, Ferkey says, “We make sure that all of our veterans are getting care so they can be the healthiest they can be to pursue their career and goals and dreams within agriculture.”
Many veterans are finding this program valuable. “It’s a way to give back to those Veterans and they have given so much for their service that we can help them continue their mission at home” Ferkey says. The programming is through the VA Hospital in Madison and is open to Dane County and surrounding counties. If you’re interested, call the Madison VA Hospital with questions.