(The Center Square) – Eleven farms of veterans received thousands in state grants last year to boost their operations and sustain Pennsylvania’s $132.5 billion agriculture industry.
One such recipient, C.J. Lafferty, said the $5,000 subgrant awarded to him through the PA Veteran Farming Network helped fund a livestock watering system on his property.
“We used to carry buckets and drag hoses and that was unpleasant at best,” he said during a news conference Wednesday. “We increased productivity, profitability. Things around here are much more efficient.”
Lafferty and his wife, Tanya, raise chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows at Skyline Pastures in Berks County. He also serves in the Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, though he said he hopes to retire from the military and run the farm full-time.
“I’ve made some significant progress in that direction,” he said. “Last year we had our best year yet, largely due to this grant.”
The farming network, an organization dedicated to helping military veterans start and grow agriculture operations, applied for a $200,000 pot of money earmarked by the state to support the effort. Organizations can then distribute awards worth up to $10,000 to individual farmers who are veterans.
Agriculture Secretary Russel Redding said the grants “are a tangible way” the administration thanks veterans for their service.
“Veterans return from serving our country with valuable, hard-won skills they can put to work on the farm,” he said. “Like any other business, they need to finance planning, safety, permits, equipment, and other critical needs.”
According to Redding, 2% of Americans work in agricluture production and another 2% are veterans. He said the statistics “give perspective on how few individuals are in this esteemed class of both farmer and veteran, and how critical they are to our nation’s security – and food security.”
The program is one of several the state hopes will boost veteran employment as lawmakers prioritize a multi-faceted approach to keeping military servicemembers in Pennsylvania.
A recent report, however, said the state is among the 10 worst when it comes to spending on programs that support veterans.