OTTUMWA — If soldiers are coming home to Iowa at a time farmers are leaving rural America, there's a pretty clear opportunity.
"I think agriculture can provide them not just with a livelihood, but also a sense of continuing service," said Ed Cox, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard who now chairs the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Iowa. "There’s a danger in constantly thanking our military, telling them how great they are, putting them on a pedestal, and then they come home and we don’t have a place for them."
The coalition can provide education on agri-business, assist with finding grants or point the way to already existing resources which are in place to help returning veterans, whether they served stateside, overseas, were injured or not injured. But that Cox's group specializes in is finding places for veterans in the world of agriculture. They've been successful in their first year of existence perhaps because it's not just the veterans who benefit, it's the community, too.
We have an aging farm population [retiring], we have people leaving rural Iowa for jobs elsewhere — so bringing in veterans who want to farm can be critical for a rural area and the state of Iowa," Cox said. "At it's core, it’s about Iowa and rural development, not just another veteran program."
And it's not just a farming program, either, he said. It's about ag, about the people who help the farmers grow the food that sustains a nation. And because agriculture is such a wide sector, returning vets will find multiple opportunities to fit their military occupation. There's also the benefit of landing an employee who can follow instructions yet also demonstrate leadership, keep working under less than perfect conditions and show initiative when appropriate.