“When I get out, I’m going to buy a piece of land in the heart of America. I’m going to run a farm, live off the land and live in peace.”

This is the fantasy of many military men and women — they long for the physical labor and connection to nature, with the peace that comes having roots deep in a place. Being your own boss is a perk, too. It’s a highly desired lifestyle among veterans, but it often proves easier said than done.

So a veteran grabs his DD-214 and sets out to make a life for himself on a farm. Where does he start? Farming is not only physically intensive, but it’s a skill that requires certain knowledge, equipment and connections in order to be sustainable. It’s a still a business, and business has to thrive in order to grow.

Florida’s farming industry is actually quite substantial — with 47,750 farms and $11 billion of direct output. Hillsborough County in particular is the 4th largest agricultural producing county in Florida, which has caught the eye of many service members exiting the military. Hillsborough County has partnered with the University of Florida and together they been developing a paid internship that aims to empower veterans to follow this dream of farming. Under the Veterans Agriculture Selection Program (VASP), they can spend nine months at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the Gulf Coast Research Center in Wimauma, or their new addition this year: the Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona, just north of Arcadia.

Simon Bollin, Agribusiness Development Manager for Hillsborough County Economic Development, said that, “VASP is a great way for veterans to get hands on experience while at the same time developing skills and relationships in the Florida agriculture industry.”

Students that are selected will learn “field preparation techniques and cutting-edge research with specialty crops grown in Central Florida,” and at the same time enroll in a University of Florida online certificate program. Once VASP is complete, students will be placed on a three month, paid internship with an agribusiness or local farm.

There is no better way to learn a skill than having someone show you step by step, and a paid internship like this is hard to beat.

Prospective applicants need four things:

  • A DD214 with an honorable discharge
  • A resume or job history
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • The VASP essay

The essay needs describe the prospective student’s interest in agriculture, what they want to take away from the VASP program, and what previous experience they have in the field, if any. The applicants can send these pieces of information to Bollin at [email protected]

Like any dream service members conjure up before they ETS, it can prove difficult upon actually exiting. It’s often hard to know where to go and what to do — veterans tend to be good at climbing the ladder to success, it’s just a matter of actually grabbing onto a ladder that matters to them first. For the hopeful Floridian farmers out there, this might be the answer.


Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.