Returning American Soldiers Prefer Seeds to Bullets

Soldiers are finding solace in farming after their military service

Returning veterans unsure about their future may find themselves bunkered down in compost and soil. Programs like Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a new course for veterans at the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture, offer soldiers—including wounded veterans—a six-week introductory to farming.

According to the USDA, half of all farmers are likely to retire within the next ten years, and rising global food costs may make it necessary for America to become resilient and self-sufficient when it comes to securing our food sources.

In a NY Times article on February 5th, Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer who founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, said “The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either.” Farmer-Veteran Coalition supports sustainable-agriculture training, which is gentler on the environment and can produce a greater yield than some conventional practices.

Says O’Gorman, “There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”

“One thing I’ve noticed about agriculture is that you become a creator rather than a destroyer,” Mike Hanes, 34, who enlisted in the Marines at 18 told the NY Times.

Baza Novic, 32, is a Los Angeles based permaculture designer and an ex-Marine, who says, “We can learn so much just by observing and mimicking nature.” Novic says that his daily exposure to gardens and nature has helped him overcome the traumas of military duty and still allows him to protect and serve his community–and his country–in exciting new ways.

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Photo: Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.