New program turns returning veterans into greenhouse farmers
Six months ago, disabled veteran Adam Cutlip was unemployed and struggling to make his dream of operating a commercial greenhouse a reality. Cutlip had a well-crafted business plan, but his lack of agriculture experience made obtaining financing difficult.
Today, Cutlip is gaining that experience – earning income while growing organic tomatoes and lettuce in a greenhouse in Pueblo, Colo., – as a participant in the Veterans to Farmers Training program. Established by Denver-based Circle Fresh Farms this past spring, Veterans to Farmers is a non-profit that provides veterans with on the job experience and the skills they need to become agricultural entrepreneurs.
Circle Fresh Farms is a company dedicated to supplying Colorado consumers with sustainable, local, clean and traceable produce through a network of greenhouse farmers. Cutlip hopes to become one of those “network farmers,” providing healthy produce to Whole Foods Markets and local, upscale restaurants.
“I am so glad to be under the Circle Fresh Farms umbrella,” said Cutlip, who served in the United States Air Force. “The training has been great. In the past two months, I have learned most of the physical aspects of owning and managing a greenhouse. I feel overwhelmingly that the future is bright for local, sustainable agriculture and I am thrilled to be a part of that future.”
Circle Fresh Founder Buck Adams launched the Veterans to Farmers program to provide veterans with opportunities for sustainable income through business ownership.
“I started this venture because I’m a veteran of the Marine Corps and understand the challenges involved in adjusting back to civilian life after a tour. Training our men and women that have served us in a new method of serving is rewarding, therapeutic and holds great benefit for consumers who are demanding healthier, more locally-grown food,” said Adams.
Veterans who participate in the program receive paid, on-the-job training at one of Circle Fresh Farms’ network farms, learning first-hand about various farming and organic growing techniques. Participants also study a curriculum provided by the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. The program includes 15 modules that cover everything from building a greenhouse to diagnosing pests and pathogen problems. A veteran can complete the program in nine months or less, depending on the time allocated to training.
When Cutlip completes the program, he plans to join the network by either buying or building a greenhouse where he can grow his own produce. He has the potential to earn an annual profit of $185,000 or more on a 1-acre farm.
“My most important goal is to build a business that is not only profitable but self-sustaining, efficient, educational, and an enjoyable place to work. I want to feed people nutrient dense, fresh, wholesome unprocessed food at affordable prices,” said Cutlip.
Veterans to Farmers is now actively fundraising and seeking grants with help from its fiscal sponsor, the Bo Matthews Center for Excellence. The program has also received support from the Veteran-Farmer Coalition.
“We really believe this model can provide long-term careers for veterans, so we want to be able to share it with as many people as possible,” said Adams.
For more information about the Veterans to Farmers program, please visit VeteransToFarmers.org, CircleFreshFarms.com or FarmVetCO.org.