Meet me at the barn dance tonight! Interview with Chris Ritthaler, National Veteran Outreach Coordinator, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Davis, CA. By Willi Paul. Supported by Permaculture Exchange

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Meet me at the barn dance tonight! Interview with Chris Ritthaler, National Veteran Outreach Coordinator, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Davis, CA. By Willi Paul. Supported by Permaculture Exchange.

Ain't getting old, ain't getting younger though
Just getting used to the lay of the land
I ain't tongue-tied, just don't got nothin' to say
I'm proud to be livin' in the U.S.A.

In history we painted pictures grim
The devil knows, we might feel that way again
The big wind blows, so the tall grass bends
But for you don't push too hard my friend.

Got people here down on their knees and prayin'
Hawks and doves are circlin' in the rain
Got rock and roll, got country music playin'
If you hate us, you just don't know what you're sayin'.

Ready to go, willin' to stay and pay
U.S.A., U.S.A.
So my sweet love can dance another free day
U.S.A., U.S.A.

Hawks & Doves by Neil Young (edited)

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Introducing the Farmer-Veteran Coalition -

FVC provides a wide variety of services designed to assist veterans in making a successful transition into an agricultural career. Our resource guide compiles information from a wide variety of sources in one location and allows the veteran to minimize time while searching for resources appropriate to their unique interests. The resource guide was developed in order to give beginning veteran farmers a comprehensive list of programs and organizations and grow their knowledge of the agricultural sector. FVC has also developed worksheets that are designed to function as an assessment tool, in order to better determine appropriate resources for a specific veteran. FVC staff review completed worksheets and can advise a veteran farmer as to specific resources available and assist in matching the veteran farmer with helpful organizations and programs. When possible, FVC will match veterans with mentors.

FVC job and internship placement programs are designed to match veterans with opportunities in the agriculture industry. Job placement is the responsibility of the FVC Employment Officer who will network within the agriculture industry to determine employment needs/ gaps that can be filled by veterans. FVC also works with veterans looking to build their knowledge base through hands on means. Internships and apprenticeships allow veterans with little or no agricultural background access to knowledge and experience outside of an academic (4 year University) setting, while focusing on practical application of everyday farm operations. FVC maintains a list of these types of programs and can often refer a veteran to a program that will best match their needs.

Finally, FVC runs an in house small grants program called the Fellowship Fund. The purpose of the Fellowship Fund is to assist veterans beginning a career in food and farming through small grants for education or farming purposes. The Fellowship Fund is also designed to assist veteran farmers with business expansion, through equipment purchase, assistance with certifications, building materials and labor. Grants can be used for training or the purchase of farming materials and equipment depending on the grantor’s stipulation. All veterans are eligible to apply, however there is a focus on those who served post 9-11 and are at the beginning of their farming careers, as well as the disabled veteran population.

Michael O’Gorman started the Farmer-Veteran Coalition in January 2008. Michael has been a pioneering organic farmer for over forty years. The last twenty years he has been the Production Manager for some of the nation’s largest organic vegetable companies. His experience in agriculture gives the program legitimacy in providing Veterans with the services that we offer.

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Interview with Chris by Willi

How does the “average” US citizen view the returning Vet now? What are the biases and relational challenges of re-entry, regardless of the intended career objective of the ex-solider?

First off I think that it is very important to read this article.

Both this question and the next question can be answered together somewhat.

I think most Americans don't know how to react to veterans. Veterans now make up about 10% of the US population which means that most individuals don't have an interaction with the military in their lifetime. They can't relate to the veterans experiences and have only a very vague idea of what it is that members of the military actually do. The post 9/11 conflicts have gone on for such a period of time with so many vague objectives that most people seem to have a sense of apathy to the whole situation, which while many say that they support the troops, it doesn't necessarily amount to much more than lip service.

That being said, I think a major challenge facing a veteran when looking to re-enter the civilian world is how little employers understand about the skill sets and experience that a veteran brings with him/her from their time in service. Lack of understanding often equates with perceived lack of skill and ability.

To many Americans, the moral disgrace and National guilt from the Vietnam War is still a part of all Vets journeys? Your reflection?

I don't see it figuring in that significantly. I am a Marine Corps Veteran (Infantry) who deployed a few times to Iraq and I have never heard Vietnam mentioned in any context other than a strategic comparison.

Is the Federal Government a strong partner for FVC? Who are some of the other partners that help make agriculture a viable option for our returning men and women?

FVC has been funded for a few of our projects by the USDA and have strong advocates within that sector.

Tell us about the tool kit that FVC provides to beginning veteran farmers? How much does technology play a role in this training?

FVC provides a wide variety of services designed to assist veterans in making a successful transition into an agricultural career. Our resource guide compiles information from a wide variety of sources in one location and allows the veteran to minimize time while searching for resources appropriate to their unique interests. The resource guide is being developed in order to give beginning veteran farmers a comprehensive list of programs and organizations and grow their knowledge of the agricultural sector. FVC has also developed worksheets that are designed to function as an assessment tool, in order to better determine appropriate resources for a specific veteran. FVC staff review completed worksheets and can advise a veteran farmer as to specific resources available and assist in matching the veteran farmer with helpful organizations and programs. When possible, FVC will match veterans with mentors.

FVC job and internship placement programs are designed to match veterans with opportunities in the agriculture industry. Internships and apprenticeships allow veterans with little or no agricultural background access to knowledge and experience outside of an academic (4 year University) setting, while focusing on practical application of everyday farm operations. FVC maintains a list of these types of programs and can often refer a veteran to a program that will best match their needs.

Finally, FVC runs an in house small grants program called the Fellowship Fund. The purpose of the Fellowship Fund is to assist veterans beginning a career in food and farming through small grants for education or farming purposes. The Fellowship Fund is also designed to assist veteran farmers with business expansion, through equipment purchase, assistance with certifications, building materials and labor. Grants can be used for training or the purchase of farming materials and equipment depending on the grantor’s stipulation. All veterans are eligible to apply, however there is a focus on those who served post 9-11 and are at the beginning of their farming careers, as well as the disabled veteran population.

Are your FVC job and internship placement programs similar to standard business practices?

I don't know what you mean by this. Right now our job placement program is small and often limited to an interested employer contacting us and then making contact within our network to an appropriate and interested Veteran. We are hoping to grow this program to one where an FVC Employment Officer will network within the agriculture industry to determine employment needs/ gaps that can be filled by veterans, as a full time position. This will be dependent on increasing our funding.

What motivates a Vet to learn to farm? Are there programs for ex-soldiers to buy their own land?

There seem to be a few different things that make vets want to farm. Primarily it is a want for financial security and independence, especially in today's poor job market. Many do not want to work in a "normal" office environment and enjoy the freedom of being outdoors and that of being their own boss. Unfortunately there are no programs specifically to assist veterans in acquiring land and funding remains a major issue for most veterans looking to get into agriculture.

What principles drive FVC? What are the risks?

The mission of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition is to mobilize veterans to feed America.

“We cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders, and develop viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. We aspire to lead the national effort connecting veterans to agriculture. Our goal is to assist veterans through training, mentorship, and direct assistance.

We believe that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all. We believe that food production offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits.”

Are GMO and organic foods hot issues there? How are you “securing a safe and healthy food supply for all?”

Those are definitely hot issues among many of our veteran farmers, and most of our veterans that FVC has assisted or had contact with implement some sort of organic or sustainable practices in their operations. We have very few vets doing "traditional" agriculture. That being said we support all types of agricultural endeavors that potential veteran farmers may want to pursue, as our mission is to assist the careers of veterans in agriculture as a whole.

Who are some of your agricultural heroes?

The Veterans engaging in Ag.

Do you know about permaculture and how this “nature with design” strategy can engineer a better life?

As for permaculture specifically, we are currently scholar-shipping a veteran to the Rudolf Steiner College. We support our veterans in any type of agricultural pursuit that they wish to engage in.

Please explain how you see the large corporate farm vs. the family farm. Which is more sustainable?

FVC does not take an opinion on this subject. We support all types of agricultural endeavors that potential veteran farmers may want to pursue, as our mission is to assist the careers of veterans in agriculture as a whole.

Tell us about a “farming community” that you belong to. Who makes up the network? What are the key struggles in keeping the members of the rural group going?

We view the farming community as anyone who is involved in agriculture, even peripherally. We endeavor to make connections between our aspiring veteran farmers and this community in order to assist their livelihood.

Are women Vets getting their fair share of resources and opportunities from FVC?

We are actually hosting a conference specifically for women vets this July in Davis, CA. Gender makes no difference in the services that FVC provides.

You have a few internal jobs listed on your web site currently. The public message tool is interesting. One can get a sense of the aims and struggles of Vets to find an ag job. How is this communication working overall?

We are always looking for more ways to push advocacy of veteran issues and open lines of dialogue to potential supporters of veteran farmers and by extension, our project.

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Chris Ritthaler Bio -

Chris Ritthaler served in the Marine Corps from 2002-2006 with a Primary specialty of Infantry Rifleman and a secondary of Security Forces/ Anti-terrorism. He has 2 OIF tours as well has a tour in Guantanamo Bay as the Marine Corps Security Forces Liaison Officer to the Joint Operations Center. He was awarded both a Combat Action Ribbon and a Joint Service Achievement Medal. Since leaving Active Duty in 2006 as a Sergeant, Chris has obtained a B.S. Psychology (Biology) from the University of California, Davis. He has worked in various positions in the outdoor industry from sales staff at REI, to rafting and back country guide for the UC Davis Outdoor Adventures program. He is also a Registered EMT-B and Swift Water Rescue Technician.

Connections –

Chris Ritthaler
National Veteran Outreach Coordinator
Chris at farmvetco.org
Farmer Veteran Coalition | http://www.farmvetco.org/
508 2nd St, Suite 206, Davis CA 95616
o: 530.756.1395 | c: 925.324.1510

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