Date Presented 04/02/2022
We examined the efficacy of Texas AgrAbility’s three-phase business program, Battleground to Breaking Ground, and its impact on helping veterans overcome transition challenges to gain employment in agriculture. This study helps generate foundational knowledge about the daily lives of veteran farmers and their unique challenges and how to holistically address their physical and mental health needs to ensure success in their chosen occupation.
Primary Author and Speaker: Faye McGuire
Contributing Authors: Mary Hildebrand, Erin Kimbrough
PURPOSE: Of the 18 million veterans living in the U.S., about 5 million reside in rural areas, with higher rates of unemployment (Holder, 2017; United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 2019). With an ageing population of food producers, there is a need for more individuals to enter into agriculture to keep farming sustainable. AgrAbility programs across the country have recognized this unique need and have established programs to get veterans into farming. Currently, there are a number of established programs across the country including Battleground to Breaking Ground in Texas (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 2019), despite the little research on the outcomes of these programs. The purpose of this research is to collect information on the effectiveness of these programs and to evaluate if they are successfully filling the gap by helping veterans overcome challenges to gain agricultural employment.
DESIGN: This program evaluation used a mixed methods design to determine the effectiveness of a particular program called Battleground to Breaking Ground (BGBG), in College Station, Texas. Participants were selected using a convenience sample only including veteran participants who were enrolled or who had completed the Battleground to Breaking Ground program. Participants in this study were 95% white, middle-aged men who were honorably discharged after serving anywhere from four to twenty-four years in the military.
METHOD: The qualitative portion of this research used a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of participants, as well as to identify themes in their responses. The quantitative portion collected data using a post satisfaction survey designed by a partnership between BGBG and Colorado State University Extension, called the FEAT satisfaction survey.
RESULTS: There were many similarities in the responses provided in the satisfaction survey and interviews despite being from different groups of participants from various cohorts. Overall participants saw a benefit from the business planning component, the hands-on experiences, and the mentorship program. Forming a network, especially with other veterans was also a valuable outcome of the program. Despite finding value in the mentorship and hands-on components, there was a strong desire for these aspects to be more easily accessible. Participants would like the program to expand the locations of the mentor farms and the type of specific production opportunities available through the approved mentor farms.
CONCLUSION: This study sought to aid in filling the gap by evaluating the effectiveness of the program Battleground to Breaking Ground by examining the lived experience of veterans who completed the program. This study provides insight into the barriers veterans face when transitioning out of the military and aides in understanding which aspects of the program aid them in overcoming those barriers and which components of the program need to be adjusted. Positive aspects included business planning and hands-on pieces, while improvements need to be made in areas such as access to a mentor. Many veterans return home with physical and mental disabilities that impact their ability to successfully gain employment, especially when working a physically demanding job like that of a farmer or rancher. Education needs to be provided to current and future OTs about the tasks and demands of farmers and ranchers. OTs can work with these individuals to help them be successful in agriculture by preventing secondary injury, providing modifications for agricultural tasks, assisting with grant writing and ensuring access to program material for those of all abilities.
Holder, K. A. (2017). Veterans in rural America: 2011-2015. [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/acs/acs-36.pdf
United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Office of rural health. Retrieved from https://www.ruralhealth.va.gov/aboutus/ruralvets.asp
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. (2019). Battle Ground to Breaking Ground. [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://txagrability.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/BGBG-Program-Brief3.pdf