Veterans and warriors to agriculture news register-herald.com z gas el salvador

####

The VA reports an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day in 2014. In West Virginia, the total number of veteran suicides in 2014 was 69. West Virginia was not significantly different from the national veteran suicide rate after accounting for differences in age, the VA reports.

The program has centered on beekeeping, but it has other initiatives as well. The department is conducting classes at some VA locations, adding some maple classes. The department also is continuing work on extended course work with the hope of establishing six- and 12-week programs.

"The fact we did this without a state budget and with a whole lot of obstacles is a miracle," McCormick said. "This just adds credit to the operational plan we have established. A good plan properly executed with even limited resources can still achieve victory."

McCormick said the department has an agreement with the Veterans Assistance Office, where veterans can apply for education assistance grants for some equipment. The department also has relationships with nonprofits to donate equipment for the training program.

The program was created in 2014 but hadn’t received any funding under the budget until this year. McCormick says money received since 2014 was under $14,000 from private donations and grants. The program operated on a zero state budget with a staff of two and was under a $7,500 yearly cap on spending.

"Everyone wants the state to have skin in the game," Leonhardt says. "Now, West Virginia can legitimately say to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and any program or private foundations that West Virginia has skin in the game. We are putting our money where our mouth is. We’re hoping they will match the funding so that we can really improve the program and get the money rolling.

"What we want to do with the funding we have now is have a training program to give veterans, as they come out of the military, a taste of what agriculture can do for them and see if it’s a right fit," Leonhardt says. "Are they wanting to start their own farm? Pursue higher education in research or food safety? The idea is to start training veterans to see what agriculture is all about. Agriculture is a business. Agriculture can be a great way of life."

"It’s something we can do by ourselves," Grandon says. "That’s the great thing about the program. With traditional work, we have problems with it because we don’t like to be around crowds. We don’t like to be confined in a cubicle after serving in Iraq three to four times. … Agriculture gives you an opportunity to give back and, at the same time, provide a life for your family."

"I didn’t want to do it because I have anxiety issues. Bees sense anxiety," Grandon says. "But for me, it took away that anxiety. It put me in a place where when I work with the bees, if I have something on my mind and start working with the bees, I forget everything. There’s no outside noise whatsoever. All I hear is a gentle buzz. I don’t think of anything else but the colony — watching the queen lay eggs, baby bees being born — it’s an amazing thing."

Now, he’s cultivating 35 honey hives. He sells nucleus colonies to kickstart other beekeepers. He renders the wax to sell in bulk or by the pound. He also sells honey, even though he admitted he doesn’t like the smell of honey after working in it all day.

"We don’t quit," Grandon says. "That’s one thing. We don’t quit. We don’t give up just because someone made it difficult. We continue with what we’re going to do. That’s a difference between military and civilians. They walk away and find something else. We don’t walk away."

"We could help that we could get veterans interested in agriculture and decide whether to start a farm or further their education with a two-year degree, or go into a university and become an agriculture teacher or food safety expert — maybe even become an agriculture attorney," Leonhardt says.

McCormick said the department is in the process of taking the program to a national level, providing initial training through the specialized training program. McCormick said he could also see lessons applied to veterans applied to other demographics.

"Whatever we teach veterans can also be applied to any other demographic or group of people," McCormick said. "We clearly see this can be something that could also be applied to recovery programs of all types to include added curriculum to assist those in drug recovery. It’s limitless in what we can do."

“The meeting with the USDA went extremely well," Leonhardt says. "It was clear after our discussion, they are committed to supporting our veterans, as well as spurring economic growth through agriculture in rural communities. We look forward to ongoing discussions to expand the WVDA Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program and hope to have USDA officials to visit West Virginia sometime in the near future. West Virginia has the potential to become a national hub for training veterans from all over America in agricultural careers. We are proud of the tremendous progress we have made since my administration took office, last year.”