NC State Graduate Student Helps Veterans Swap Combat Boots for Cowboy Boots
After Sara Kidd completed her undergraduate degree in environmental science, she had no intention of pursuing graduate studies.
“I never in a million years thought I would be going to graduate school,” Sara said.
But her husband, Joe Kidd, a farmer and Marine Corps veteran, always had a hunch that Sara would pursue advanced education. Joe would joke with Sara that she would be “Dr. Kidd” in no time, but Sara had her doubts.
“I knew she was destined for it because of her drive,” Joe said.
Joe’s instinct proved correct. Sara’s drive outweighed her doubts, and she is now a NC State graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences and a fellow at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. Sara’s graduate research focuses on connecting military veterans to agriculture through farming apprenticeship programs.
Among her different pursuits, Sara is assisting Angel Cruz with the coordination of their recently funded NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Boots on the Ground: North Carolina’s Veteran Farmer Apprenticeship Program.
Sara said that while she is not a veteran herself, her relationship with her husband was key to fostering her interest in helping veterans find community and purpose in farming.
“I don’t think I would have been interested in helping veterans if I wasn’t interested in helping him.”
The couple met when Sara was completing her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Joe was stationed at Camp Lejeune for four years. During the early days of their marriage, Joe was injured, and Sara was her husband’s caretaker.
“After exiting the Marine Corps I had no purpose. I had no direction. I had no structure,” Joe said, “I didn’t really know what to do with myself.”
Sara loved and observed her husband through this “rocky transition,” and became interested in how veterans can be best supported during this time of adjustment. As Joe began to heal and explore the next steps for his career and life after service, Sara also began to think about her own career path.
Growing up, she loved being outside and around horses. While Sara did not grow up on a farm, she describes her childhood as “agriculture-adjacent.” Sara enrolled in the sustainable agriculture associate’s degree program at Lenoir Community College, curious to see what it could look like for agriculture to be a focal, instead of adjacent, component of her life.
In this program, she discovered a passion for agriculture. “I just loved it so much,” she said. ‘It was easy because I was so interested in it.”
Two of Sara’s instructors in this program were NC State graduates and recommended their alma mater to Sara after she completed her associate’s degree. Sara was soon accepted to the master’s program in Agricultural and Extension Education. Her master’s research work reviewed existing agriculture education programs for veterans, and she identified a strong need for registered apprenticeship programs.
This work dovetailed into her current doctoral studies where Sara is helping Cruz implement a registered apprenticeship program for veterans and taking a variety of coursework that has broadened her understanding of what her career can be moving forward.
“Being able to take such diverse electives through the doctoral program in things like instructional design in departments that are outside of the agricultural education department, has opened my eyes to so many different career paths that are related to agriculture and agriculture education,” she said.
As Sara’s academic pursuits blossomed, so has her personal interest in having her own farm. Sara and Joe had brainstormed for years about homesteading, intrigued by the idea of being self-sufficient and growing their own food. When a farm became available in Nashville, North Carolina in late 2018 they jumped at the opportunity to own it and begin farming in early 2019.
Now, after experimenting with different types of livestock, they have a growing flock of 40 Katahdin hair sheep that they sell live or have processed into retail cuts of lamb. One day, Sara and Joe hope to host veterans on their farm. Their house even has a separate apartment where veterans could stay while they learn a variety of skills, such as poultry processing, organic gardening, and livestock management.
“It’s almost like we figured out a secret. This is the perfect thing,” Sara said. “We can provide for ourselves, and I can teach other veterans who are interested in farming as a new career path.”
Sara and Joe are not alone in their current or future efforts. Rather, the couple emphasized that they have been welcomed by a community of veterans who have an interest in farming near Nashville, North Carolina.
Sara and Joe explained that this community has been integral to helping them find their way as beginning farmers, as well as providing valued friendship.
Joe describes “community” as “helping each other thrive.” He explains that this shared connection with other farmers who are veterans has provided him with a sense of camaraderie and belonging.
“I saw him transition from military culture now into farming culture,” Sara said. “Instead of being tied to wearing his combat boots…he rocks the cowboy boots. I’m so proud of him.”
The pride runs both ways for this couple. Joe said he has enjoyed watching Sara’s journey and expresses gratitude for the path she has taken.
“It was very neat to watch. I’m proud of her,” Joe said. “I think this really crazy idea that she had was, ‘Hey, what if we can help veterans?’ I don’t think it’s crazy because I saw it give me purpose. I saw it give me something structured in my life, and give me the ability to take care of something else other than myself again.”