How military veterans learn to become organic farmers at UC Santa Cruz

“I want to continue to serve. I want to add value to someone's life,” says James Harris, a U.S. Army veteran, now an apprentice at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), the farm program at UC Santa Cruz.

Harris is one of three former service members enrolled in the internationally recognized Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture this year. Others are Jose Ortega, who served in the Air Force in Afghanistan, and Margaret Goolsby, who retired from a successful career in the Army.

For many soldiers transitioning to civilian life, agriculture is an appealing career option. Farmers and soldiers share many of the same character traits: They are disciplined, resolute, determined, purposeful, and resilient.

But to Harris and other veteran farmers, including notable CASFS alumnus and a vet himself, Matthew Raiford (2010), a career in agriculture allows them to continue serving their country by working the land they once protected. “You are serving the community in a similar way,” Goolsby observes.

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