Lowndes County Extension planning Operation Grow for veterans

Published 11:15 am Monday, May 29, 2023

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Contributed by Tana Shealey

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

The Lowndes County Extension office is working on bringing a special training program for veterans, Operation Grow, to local residents.

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System held a special training for a program called Operation Grow on May 25, at the Pike Road Agricultural, Recreation and Performing Arts Center. The one-day event was part of an effort to help veterans and their families learn, train, and develop connections with others who are entering the agricultural field after military life.

Now, Extension agents hope to bring the program to Lowndes County veterans and Extension’s Lowndes County office is reaching out to veterans and groups representing veterans, gauging whether there is interest in having the project locally and conducting local training for veterans living in Lowndes County.

The May 25 event included presentations on a variety of topics including the following:

  • Business planning 
  • Grants and loans
  • Food and pesticide safety and certification
  • Veteran resources 
  • Large livestock 
  • Specialty Crops

Operation Grow project coordinator since 2015, Harli Willis, said the Alabama Beginning Farmer program — led by the Alabama Extension commercial horticulture team — has helped more than 400 small producers across Alabama.

“Now the team has developed Operation Grow for veteran farmers,” Willis said. “Implications of this project on mental health and employment priorities in veteran communities is going to be outstanding over time.”

The program is aimed at systematically training and providing networks to veteran farmers while supporting and aiding them long-term. Operation Grow provides a three-step farm planning support system to military veterans interested in farming using hands-on, on-farm and digital media-based training. The program integrates technical, experiential, and social learning for veteran-owned farms.

“We are all here to help people,” said Mike Phillips, Alabama Cooperative Extension System director. “Operation Grow will be very beneficial to our veterans. It is an honor to collaboratively provide assistance to those who have served our country.”

Commissioner of Agriculture, Rick Pate, said the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) has seen programs that have lasting impacts on veterans. Pate said ADAI was looking for an opportunity to expand their support for veterans.

“Extension came to us with this proposal with the framework already in place and we are a natural partnership,” Pate said. “Operation Grow is a program that really aims to help veterans get started in agriculture and I am excited about it.” 

Anyone who is interested in participating in this program should contact the Lowndes County Extension office at 334-548-2315 or e-mail tshealey@auburn.edu.