Lessons Learned from North Carolina’s Farmer-Veterans


This post was written by Kavita Koppa, RAFI’s Farmer-Veteran Network Coordinator.

Kavita Koppa, RAFI's Farmer-Veteran Network Coordinator.

Kavita Koppa, RAFI’s Farmer-Veteran Network Coordinator.

One of the beautiful things about agriculture to me is its ability to heal, to empower and to humble. There are not too many occupations that carry that trifecta.

To that end, I have known for a long time that RAFI is a place I wanted to be. Working with farmers, connecting them to one another and showing them the power they have to change a corporatized food system is constantly humbling work.

My task here in Pittsboro is to work with veterans. Specifically, farmer-veterans (not veteran farmers, not farmers and veterans, but farmer-veterans), and developing a statewide network of resources and growers to make their lives a little easier. I did not grow up in a military family, but I do know the hard work and quiet rewards of farm life. Through the folks I have met in my work, I have learned a great deal thus far of veteran life as a farmer, and am geared up to learn even more.

The world of farmer-veteran work has taken me by storm over the past three months. Amidst the acronyms (FVC, DAV, VAMC, FVOC) and catchy taglines (“combat boots to cowboy boots” is my current favorite) is a predominant narrative of warm-fuzzies. It makes sense, really–who can argue against helping farmers or helping veterans? It’s hard not to feel good about it, and it’s hard not to pat yourself on the back for what a good job you’ve done helping those who need help.

Except that ‘helping’ is not what we’re here to do.

Here is, in bullet summation, what I have learned (and re-learned) from my start here at RAFI:

  • I am not here to ‘help.’ Helping, while great and all, is temporary. ‘Helping’ creates a power dynamic, an authority figure and a sense of dependence. ‘Helping’ implies that people cannot ‘help’ themselves, and ‘helping’ has more to do with making the ‘helper’ feel good than it does empowering the ‘helpee’. I am not here to ‘help’ farmer-veterans. I am here to remind them of the power they already have and connect them with the means to use that power.
  • Language is crucial. While I have not quite mastered the alphabet soup of veterans’ affairs, I do speak other languages that are important to my work–I speak Farm, and I speak Human. Veterans have made and continue to make incredible sacrifices that most of us cannot fathom, and we should never forget that. They also trip over things and run out of toilet paper, just like the rest of us. Talking to veterans as much as I do, I have learned that connecting as humans and as stewards of the land makes a lot more progress than being awed into silence by what they have done.
  • My job is to learn. As I have said, I am not a veteran, and I do not know what it is like to be one. So this is my time to learn from you, your time to teach (looking at you, farmer-vets), and both of our times to build together. To all the NC farmer-veterans out there, please teach me. There is nothing I love about my job more than criss-crossing the state, walking through frozen fields with a farmer-veteran, sitting at a kitchen table and talking shop, learning how (and working together) to make our emerging farmer-veteran network as beneficial as possible to those who actually stand to gain from it.

The NC Farmer-Veteran Network is off to a great start. Last week we had our first team meeting for the Sampson-Harnett-Wayne area, and it was humbling to watch these folks who have already worked so hard brainstorm how to work even harder to help their comrades.

Our goal is to create teams like this all across the state. If you are interested in joining a team, let me know. If there is not yet a team in your area, gather a few folks up! I would love to learn about what you do, how you do it and how RAFI can make it easier to do. Give us a call. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get started.

Thanks to you all, and enjoy the well-deserved springtime!


About Kavita Koppa

Kavita manages RAFI’s Farmer Leadership Network, which helps farmers effectively serve on committees for agricultural decision-making groups. Prior to this she managed a beginning farmer program and organized farmer-veterans to better address their specific barriers to success. She received her BA in Geography and Biology from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009.