Farming runs in Robert Elliot’s family — but he never expected that he’d make a living off of the land.
Instead, he served in the Marines, completing five years of active duty service before returning to the U.S. and taking a job as a contractor for the Marine Corps. In 2011, he was abruptly laid off along with many others due to budget cuts, and he didn’t know what to do. “It was hard to make ends meet so I moved home,” he tells Shumurial Ratliff of WNCN News.
Back home in Louisburg, N.C., on the land his family used to farm, Elliot decided to try his hand at the old family profession, establishing Cypress Hall Farms with the help of the nonprofit Farmer Veteran Coalition.
The organization supports veterans looking to transition into farming with resource guides, training and funding opportunities. It partners with Homegrown by Heroes to help veteran farmers label their produce with a patriotic-looking sticker that informs consumers know that they’re buying food grown by vets.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 17 percent of the American population lives in rural areas, but 45 percent of those who serve in the military are from rural America. At the same time, American farmers are aging, averaging 55.9 years and returning veterans face higher unemployment than non-veterans. Many people think the perfect solution to these problems is to convince some veterans to return to their rural roots and take up farming.
Elliot, who specializes in pasture-raised meats and organic vegetables, agrees. “A lot of farmers now are getting up in age,” Elliot tells Ratliff. “They are retiring, they are getting out of farming. We are losing farms left and right. There is nobody better suited for the job to take over where America’s food is going to come from tomorrow than veterans. We are already adapted to the outside, we like to work hard, we know what we have to do. We will get the job done.”
Elliot, who also spends time teaching other veterans how to farm, told a group of people at the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) that he revamped his family’s farm from a traditional approach to a sustainable one because, “Being a veteran, I don’t mind putting in the manual labor required to farm sustainably.”
MORE: A Nonprofit that Helps Vets Get Involved in Sustainable Agriculture