Many U.S. veterans face enormous obstacles when they come home from foreign wars. Vets make up a disproportionate number of America’s homeless, in part because of mental health, disabilities, and substance abuse issues.
But even healthy and fit veterans have a hard time finding work. Unemployment among vets—especially in younger demographics—hovers around twice the national average.
A unique program based in Virginia aims to tackle that problem by providing vets with the training they need to become farmers and connecting them with land suitable for starting a farm.
The Veteran Farmer Program is one of several to come out of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Founded in 2010, Arcadia focuses not only on sustainable farm practices, but on food justice, through offerings like the Veteran Farmer Program, a “mobile market” that brings healthy farm produce into under-served urban neighborhoods, and a farm-to-school program.
The farm is situated on a historic property owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sharing the space with Woodlawn, a mansion once owned by George Washington, and a relocated Frank Lloyd Wright house. There, the organization runs a four-acre demonstration farm that serves as its hands-on laboratory and teaching facility.
Among those who come to the farm to learn about sustainable agriculture are schoolchildren from nearby Washington DC who participate every summer in “Farm Camp.” To ensure that low-income students have the opportunity to take part, Arcadia runs a scholarship program that brings 30 children to the farm.
Like these scholarships, Arcadia’s Mobile Market is expressly designed to increase the access to healthy, fresh foods for low-income people. The nation’s capital might be the seat of Western power and the destination for millions of tourists, but away from the city’s monuments, the D.C. area is notorious for its “food deserts,” areas with inadequate access to fresh, healthy groceries.
Mobile Market aims to correct this lack with a pair of food trucks that visit such neighborhoods. The program has been a remarkable success, with sales growing by 50 percent annually since its inception in 2012. Many of those purchases are made with SNAP food stamp benefits. Arcadia calculates that although the Mobile Market accounts for less than 10 percent of all farmers market revenues in the city, the trucks make up 36 percent of all SNAP purchases at area farmers markets.
Arcadia’s founder, Michael Babin, explains that these numbers are proof of the organization’s success in pursuing its mission to reform what he says is a dysfunctional food system—one that provides empty calories, wastes food, fails to pay a living wage to its workers, and degrades the environment.
“Arcadia’s mission from the beginning has been to help create a better, more equitable, and more sustainable local food system,” he says, “to help re-knit the bonds between the consumers in the urban and suburban core and the sustainable farmers working the rural land that surrounds it.”
Organic Valley is committed to building a just and sustainable food system and is proud to support the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture in its efforts.