Armed to Farm: Bridging Veterans to Agriculture

By October 20, 2014Uncategorized

By Lillian Salerno, Business & Cooperative Program Administrator, Rural Development

“I’m used to hard work; I served in the Infantry – but agriculture is a different kind of hard work.” That’s what Ivory Smith, founder of SmithPonics in Poplarville, Miss, had to say about opening his own business selling microgreens.

Ivory was one of many veterans who participated in a recent ‘Armed to Farm’ workshop in Jackson, Mississippi. Sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (also known as ATTRA), and funded in part through USDA Rural Development, the workshop gave veterans a chance to learn about sustainable small-scale farming practices and visit working agribusinesses to learn from them first-hand.

Following ten years of service in the Army National Guard, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ivory became interested in microgreens and hydroponics. After some market research and experimenting, this stay-at-home dad established the groundwork for SmithPonics to provide fresh microgreens to farmers markets and high-end restaurants in Mississippi. The ‘Armed to Farm’ workshop gave him the opportunity to see an established microgreens operation and pick up some tips on how to improve his processes.

“Watching them and talking with them, I was able to learn ways to cut down on my harvesting time,” said Ivory. “I’m also learning how to manage the business side of the operation.” Offering rainbow radish, pea shoots, and mustard mixed microgreens, Ivory Smith is building a sustainable agricultural operation, and doing it smartly and effectively.

Partnerships that we in USDA Rural Development have with programs like ATTRA and others are a fantastic way to leverage federal investment in smart ways that benefit the public. It is through joint efforts like these that we’re able to improve the environment for small businesses in our rural communities.

Ivory has been able to make the transition from fighter to farmer, starting with a couple buckets and some seeds this spring to his newly-completed insulated planting shed. With year-round operation now possible for his microgreens customers, he can watch his business grow much like his microgreens (and his little boy, too.)

On this Veterans Day, we in the USDA offer a sincere thank you to Ivory Smith and the millions of men and women who have, through our history, sacrificed to serve in our armed forces and defend this great nation. For you, we are grateful.

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