A two-day conference this week in central Iowa aims to help veterans and active-duty members of the military overcome obstacles and find opportunities to start farming. The Midwest Conference for Farmer Veterans is planned for tomorrow  and Saturday in Des Moines. Ed Cox is one organizer of the gathering which helps take soldiers from the battlefield to the farm field. “It’s open to the public and free for any farmers or veterans,” Cox says. “Mostly, it will be veterans of all eras but a lot of them are going to be recently-returned veterans that are looking to get into farming, whether that’s returning to a family farm or starting a new farm of their own.”

Cox is chairman of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Iowa and is staff attorney for the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. He says you don’t often hear about soldiers coming home from Afghanistan, for example, and becoming farmers. “You don’t and a lot of people don’t, but it makes sense,” Cox says. “There’s a lot of similarities between the military and agriculture. It takes that same mindset in terms of a lot of self-reliance, adaptability and using a lot of technology as well.”

Studies have found more than 40-percent of veterans are from rural areas, so Cox says it’s vital for rural development to help veterans put down roots and grow a career in agriculture. He expects at least four-dozen attendees at this weekend’s conference. “We’ll have a farm tour Friday morning of a diversified farm operation that has corn and beans as well as livestock and specialty crops for local markets,” Cox says. “We’ll come back to Drake University for seminars, those will be based around land access, business development, legal issues.”

They’ll also discuss how to access various U.S.D.A. programs and others through the V-A that target farming. Cox notes some returning veterans are looking for a continued sense of service and purpose, and with farming, they can get that by helping to feed their communities and their country. Learn more at: iowafarmerveteran.org