Delaware Valley College (Del Val) and Rodale Institute have created a 36-credit certificate program aimed specifically at military veterans, but open to anyone interested in organic agriculture. The one-year curriculum will combine classroom courses on animal science, marketing, vegetable production, organic crop science, entomology, weed management and sustainable agriculture during the spring and fall semesters on the Del Val campus.
Students will also have the opportunity to get hands-on experience during the summer semester at Rodale Institute’s 333-acre organic farm in post-harvest techniques, plant disease diagnosis and how to promote soil health.
“This program is a great way to get involved in small farming, large farming, any kind of farming,” says student and military veteran Joshua Brown. “We’re learning how to grow things from seed to harvest to table.”
“As the farming population in our country ages, we need to ensure that we have young people trained and educated to take over the farm,” says Coach Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute executive director. “Through this new program we can save farming by literally ‘bringing in the Marines.’”
According to program coordinator Dennis Riling, Del Val and Rodale Institute saw the trend in returning veterans looking for training and jobs in agriculture. “A large percent of veterans come from rural areas, working outside and in agriculture,” says Riling. “And working with plants and animals has shown to be beneficial in coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), decompressing and transitioning from the military life back into civilian life.”
The focus on organic farming is a unique aspect of this particular program and follows in the footsteps of a select few programs across the country providing training specifically in organics. Considering the U.S. organic industry grew by 9.5 percent in 2011 (nearly double the growth of the non-organic sector), the economic opportunities in organic farming are especially viable.
The program is not due to change drastically as the doors are open to non-veterans, so the curriculum will stay the same. The only difference will be how non-veterans will pay for the credits. Del Val is a Yellow Ribbon School, therefore, veterans who are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill will have up to 100% of their tuition paid, in addition to receiving funds for housing and books. Non-veteran students will be responsible for regularly charged tuition fees.
In addition to the course and field work, the program includes business development training, field trips to established organic farms (some of which are run by veterans) and career placement assistance.