Dr. Clarissa Mathews, chair of the Institute of Environmental and Physical Sciences, has been named director of a new program aimed at training veterans for jobs in agriculture and sustainable food production. Shepherd is teaming up with the West Virginia National Guard Patriot Guardens Project to offer the training to veterans and members of the military and National Guard.
The Veterans to Agriculture program will utilize classes and facilities at Shepherd so veterans and active-duty service members can potentially launch their own farming business or take a different career path. Mathews said Shepherd plans to develop two curricular paths—one in sustainable food production and another in agricultural entrepreneurship. Veterans would enroll for three consecutive semesters, including a summer, to take classes and get hands-on training in the university’s greenhouses and at Shepherd’s Tabler Farm.
“We have a tremendous resource in the greenhouses and the Tabler Farm, which offers more than 100 acres of prime farmland,” Mathews said. “We also have courses like sustainable agriculture, soil science, integrated pest management, marketing, and entrepreneurship that we can utilize to offer a new program and serve a whole new population.”
Mathews pointed out that many veterans who leave the service encounter difficulty transitioning to the civilian workforce. She said the Veterans to Agriculture program will give them the opportunity to acquire more skills, education, and retraining to succeed in their chosen field.
“Additionally, in many cases, our service members who may be suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might struggle to thrive in a traditional work environment,” Mathews said. “Gardening has been shown to help with conditions like PTSD, so one of the things that we’re hoping to explore with the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is whether there are mental health benefits to farming.”
The Veterans to Agriculture program hopes to raise financial support through grants and the sale of produce to the campus dining facilities and to the local community.
“We are very enthusiastic about Dr. Mathews’s vision and leadership for this innovative program,” said President Mary J.C. Hendrix. “Her unique expertise and partnership with key stakeholders will ensure the success of this significant new training opportunity.”