Today, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) introduced legislation to create a new pilot program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will help establish veterans gardens programs throughout the United States. The Veterans Gardens Employment and Opportunity Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to award grants for the establishment of gardens that are operated exclusively by veterans, and designed to produce food that can be sold to individuals, schools, and restaurants through farmers markets and farm-to-school programs.
"Right now, the rate of unemployment among American veterans is almost double the national average," said Rep. Baca. "Our brave men and women who have served in uniform deserve better when they return home. This responsible bill authorizes a new pilot program funded by the USDA, which I believe can help to create new job opportunities for our veterans and at the same time increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in many of our underserved communities."
The Veterans Gardens Employment and Opportunity Act authorizes a $10 million, public-private partnership program in which the USDA, VA Medical facilities, and private non-profit and business organizations work together to establish gardens that are fully operated by veterans. These gardens may be located on the grounds of a VA facility, or in suitable areas located in communities surrounding VA facilities.
Establishing veterans gardens not only helps America's veterans learn valuable employment skills in a therapeutic setting, it also creates a pipeline of new individuals to fill the growing need for more farmers in America. According to the USDA, nearly 70% of all farmers in the United States are over the age of 55. It is estimated that at least one million new farmers will be needed in the next decade to meet the agricultural demands of the United States.
"Programs that train veterans with farming and gardening skills have proven effective at enabling our returning troops to become successful, sustainable farmers," concluded Rep. Baca. "This legislation is an important first step in our efforts to ensure all our veterans find meaningful and dignified employment here at home. And by generating new sources of fruit and vegetable growth, the Veterans Gardens Employment and Opportunity Act creates a win-win situation that also improves access to nutritious foods and helps to combat the obesity crisis in America."