The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP: http://benefits.va.gov/vow/education.htm) has missed its highest potential. According to provisions of the benefit, veterans who are VRAP recipients must seek employment training in high demand sectors. Conservation agriculture and organic food production training belong on the list of high demand occupations. Organic food sales have often grown by 10%+ annually- U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales. Certified organic acreage in the United States reached more than 4.8 million acres in 2008, according to latest data posted by USDA. U.S. total organic cropland reached 2,655,382 acres in 2008, while land devoted to organic pasture totaled 2,160,577 acres. Since 1992 the number of organic farm workers has increased from about 935,000 to almost 5,000,000, with strongest growth during the last 6 years of recession, over 3,000,000 new organic farm employees. This market is growing tangentially, currently at 4% of total food sales and with 0.7% of land base in organic and conservation management, and there is likely a decade or more of growth in this sector. It is the only Ag sector in which small operators show constant year to year profit. Despite this, no sustainable, organic or conservation based agriculture training programs are covered by VRAP.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines which fields may be growth industries in the next decade. Their track record over the previous decade belies the best wishes and poor substance of these claims. VRAP will train construction related jobs, with BLS claiming up to 23% growth in the coming decade. BLS also predicted growth through the housing bubble burst. VRAP will train banking managers and insurance brokers, while $1.15 trillion dollars of taxpayer money funded wall street CEO retirements and bonuses after the recent bailouts. This kind of growth industry has bankrupted US citizens and made thousands homeless. VRAP funds training for privatized medical insurance specialists, while we know that the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has been designed to prevent medical insurance agencies from continuing to leverage gross profits from peoples illness and suffering- can that industry really grow 22% in the next decade? Real estate sales agent training is offered for a sector that is 3+ years flat lined- a failure propagated by the wall street financiers. Many of the fields that are being funded by VRAP have taken huge hits while the unrepresented field of sustainable agriculture has grown by almost 3000% in two decades, outstripping all other fields represented. Despite this, the BLS states that this is a declining field, ignoring all the USDA Economic Research Statistics data which shows otherwise. A walk down any supermarket isle and memory lane makes it clear: Sustainable, organic agriculture is not just here to stay, it is the way of the future.
The VRAP benefit is training vets in fields that will only perpetuate the cycle of veteran underemployment. Meanwhile, veterans are clamoring for support in developing small scale sustainable agriculture across the nation. Thousands of vets from OEF and OIF are taking farming courses on the GI Bill, which is to be lauded. This opportunity should be extended to the VRAP recipients as well. Please consult with your staff and see to that the truth be told: Veterans, skilled in National Security, now want to work in National Food Security, and this should be funded under the auspices of the VOW Act.
Beyond food security, sustainable agriculture builds conservation assets, maintaining and improving water and air quality, protecting or providing wildlife habitat, including salmon habit and riparian ecologies. It is builds local character and community resilience. It offers healthy eating choices for everyone from grade school children to convalescing seniors, and so lowers the impact of poor food choices on health care costs. Its time to let veterans stand to this challenge. Please do all in your power to establish a provision in the VRAP offerings for Sustainable, Organic and conservation based agriculture training. There are literally thousands of vets and soon to be discharged soldiers who are ready to deploy into this career, and build a better future for all Americans thereby. Please support us, so we can support you.
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