Local News

Fort Bragg's Soldier to Agriculture program helps recruit new farmers

Posted July 5, 2018 5:26 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:43 p.m. EDT

— Tucked away in a remote corner of Fort Bragg is a small greenhouse.

It's home to tomato plants and fresh basil, and it's part of the experience for soldiers who are learning the basics of agriculture as part of the new Soldier to Agriculture program.

"I've always been curious about farming and agriculture, but I never had family ties or friends that got into it," said Sgt. Forrest Bronson, who is scheduled to leave the Army later this year.

He is part of the six-week class offered to soldiers who are nearing the end of their service. It provides a link to a booming North Carolina industry that is in need of labor.

"Most of the people who come through this course are interested in it solely based on being outside. They want outside work," said program coordinator Robert Elliott.

Elliott is a former Marine who found success at his own farm after leaving the military.

"It's kind of odd how many soldiers and Marines have wanted to come into the agricultural workforce and how, even though it might be a very difficult task to get then into it, it can be done," he said.

The program is a partnership with North Carolina State University's Agricultural Institute and gives the soldiers a path to enter into a two- or four-year degree program if they choose to do that. If not, the course offers the basics taught by the professors and is free to soldiers.

"I'm very passionate about this program. All of our instructors are passionate about this program because we have been able to tie two groups together, and that's agriculture and the military, and those are the two biggest industries in the state," said Elizabeth Wilson, the director of N.C. State's Agricultural Institute.

The Soldier to Agriculture program is made possible by a $150,000 grant from Golden LEAF, the Rocky Mount-based foundation that uses money from the national settlement with cigarette makers to fund economic development projects.