6 Ways the US Department of Agriculture Helps Vets Work on America's Food Supply

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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Calvin Riggleman holds an oregano seedling and soil on Bigg Riggs farm in West Virginia. Riggleman served in Iraq and serves his community farm fresh organic produce, and food products made by the Bigg Riggs Farm team. (Department of Agriculture))

Continued service is important to today's veterans, even after their military service ends and they enter the civilian job market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, wants veterans to continue serving their country through an often-overlooked, but all-important area of federal service: the U.S. food supply.

The USDA says veterans can play a critical role in America's national defense by working on farms and in rural areas. But working in agriculture means more than being a farmer (although farming is an important job). Veterans working in agriculture are entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers -- sometimes rolled into one.

To help vets transition into this essential area, the USDA offers six ways for veterans to get into agricultural careers.

1. Direct Hiring

The Department of Agriculture recognizes military experience can be translated directly into a number of necessary USDA jobs, many of which can be found on USAJobs.gov, the federal government's job portal.

In addition to the usual federal employment five- or ten-point veteran preference during the hiring process that might make getting hired easier, veterans might also be able to find a role that matches their military occupation. Fields include some you'd expect at the Department of Agriculture, like forestry technicians, firefighters and soil conservationists. But there are also jobs one might not expect, like forestry aviation, social science specialists and statisticians.

2. On-the-Job Training

Have you ever wondered what happens to "Grade B" beef, what makes other beef "Grade A" and/or who the heck determines which is which? This could be you. One of the USDA's apprenticeship programs includes being an Agricultural Commodities Grader, the person who determines which beef (and other products) make the grade.

There are also apprenticeship programs for wildland firefighters, and the USDA occasionally has programs available to train separating service members in various skills during the last 180 days of their enlistments through the Skillbridge program.

3. Educational Scholarships

The USDA will help train service members as they learn various agricultural career fields, including plant and food science, veterinary medicine and water resources engineering, among others. It does this through partnerships with colleges and universities, land-grant programs and other scholarships.

For a list of degree programs that are in high demand and might have scholarships and other financial resources available for those who qualify, check out the USDA's National Agricultural Library.

4. Education Through Experience

Using private and nonprofit partnerships, the Department of Agriculture will help train veterans in farming and other agricultural careers while they literally get their hands dirty. The National Center for Appropriate Technology offers its Armed to Farm Program to immerse veterans in sustainable farming and agriculture enterprises.

For those veterans who have already started a farming or ranching venture, the USDA works with the Farmer Veterans Coalition to offer direct assistance through its fellowships and the "Homegrown by Heroes" brand of veteran-produced agricultural products.

5. Starting an Agribusiness Enterprise

For any veteran looking to get started in an agricultural business of their own, the USDA offers programs to help train new farmers. The USDA wants to help transition service members to farming careers.

On the USDA website Discovery Tool, veterans can search for programs that will help them raise capital for new ventures, learn sustainable agriculture techniques and get insurance, loans and other protections for their new farm.

6. Rural Development Enterprises

The USDA wants to help anyone looking to start or grow a business in a rural area in a host of ways. It offers 40 loan, grant and technical assistance programs for new businesses to purchase land, build facilities, buy equipment and more.

And for anyone, not just veterans, looking to improve a rural area through revitalizing old community buildings, one needs to look no further than the USDA's direct loan and grant programs. Its designed to help individuals revive their communities' old structures. And since its open to more than just veterans, military and veteran spouses can get started here too.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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