Monday, June 18, 2012

Innovative program for veterans teaches Marines how to farm, and how to market what they produce

Marine Master Sgt. Ruben Villarreal, right, holds a sage plant as part of the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program, a six-week course that teaches service members and veterans about entrepreneurship and agriculture. He's learning to make tea and market it. “We’re looking at capturing a market that hasn’t been addressed. The purpose behind that and sage tea is to raise money, or seed capital, to allow and empower other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” Villareal told Gretel Kovach of The U-T San Diego, formerly the San Diego Union-Tribune. (U-T photo by Charlie Neuman)

VSAT is aimed “to provide them the opportunity to go out there, start up a business, be entrepreneurs, be employers instead of employees, drive the market, create jobs, and continue making America what it is, and that is great and free, Villareal saidMarine veteran Colin Archipley and his wife, Karen, started the program five years ago on their organic farm above Escondido, Calif. With some funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, they've focus more lately on active-duty service members preparing to leave the service. The intensive, six-week, 270-hour course is now operated in partnership with California State University San Marcos. Veteran benefits and donations are available to cover the $4,500 cost, writes Kovach.

One of the most successful graduates is Mike Hanes, a former Force Recon Marine and Iraq combat veteran who struggled to adjust after he left the service in 2004, notes Kovach. "For about two years while he attended college, he was homeless. 'After class at night, I’d crawl into a bush' in Balboa Park, he said. He graduated in 2009 from San Diego State University but still lacked the business know-how and network to turn his hot sauce recipe into a marketable product. He graduated from VSAT in February and now his Dang! hot sauce is sold in 12 local Whole Foods stores." (Read more.)

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