After 15 years in the U.S. Army — including five deployments — combat veteran Joshua Bell decided to pursue a career in farming.
His inspiration? The Soldier to Agriculture Program, offered through the college’s Agricultural Institute.
The free 6-week program covers everything from business to row crop production through hands-on work in the field, classroom instruction and trips to working farms.
“It showed me that it’s possible to learn ag, for somebody in my shoes, who doesn’t know anything about it,” he says. “It encouraged me, and showed me I can.”
Along with AGI Director Elizabeth Wilson, Soldier to Agriculture program leader Robert Elliott has made it his mission to connect soldiers like Bell with jobs in agriculture – a former Marine, he credits agriculture with saving his life.
Three months after the initiative started in 2016, Elliott had recruited six veterans. Today, there is a list of more than 150 waiting to enter.
The program is housed in Fort Bragg. Wilson and her staff have worked tirelessly over the past two years to launch the program and keep it running.
A recent $150,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation prevented Wilson from having to shutter the program. Dan Gerlach, president of the foundation, says the program has “emotional as well as analytical appeal” for him.
“When my father left the United States Army, he worked on a farm himself,” Gerlach says. “He was orphaned and didn’t have anything else when he got out of the army, so the farm saved him. … This grant was an important one for us to make.”