SAVE Secures Farmland in Riley County, Kansas
Program helps veterans build a foundation for sustainable farming
Riley County, KS
With help from partners, a veteran-led nonprofit, Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education (SAVE), has secured its future and is now the proud owner of a 308-acre farm northwest of Manhattan, Kansas.
SAVE Farm was established in 2015 as a pathway to farming for veterans and servicemembers by providing agricultural training and medical assistance to men and women transitioning from the military to civilian life. The program offers students an opportunity to learn firsthand about managing cropland, livestock animals, orchards, horticulture and bees. SAVE’s program is specially designed to remove barriers for those with disabilities to work with equipment and animals.
SAVE had been leasing their farm for many years, and when the opportunity to purchase the property presented itself, two national, environment-focused nonprofit organizations—The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy—stepped up to provide low-cost loans for the acquisition.
“SAVE offers training and work skills to veterans who will contribute significantly to Kansas’ agricultural economy. We’re proud to partner with SAVE and The Nature Conservancy, two strong organizations that recognize the importance of partnerships for long-term conservation,” said Ginny Moore, Midwest Representative at The Conservation Fund. “Veterans are learning sustainable agriculture practices—a great therapeutic activity and a critical conservation tool in Kansas and across the Midwest.”
At SAVE, on-the-soil experience is combined with classroom time covering topics ranging from agricultural science, law, marketing, agri-biotechnology, wildlife management and molecular biology to welding, commercial driving and woodworking. SAVE has established partnerships with Cloud County Community College, Manhattan Area Technical College, the University of Montana, Des Moines Area Community College, The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University—whose agricultural program is providing the farm with their curriculum for educational programs.
To date, SAVE has trained more than 500 veterans and over 90% of them have gone on to either farm themselves or find jobs elsewhere in the agri‐business sector; but the effort is in the beginning stages.
“It’s SAVE’s hope, and our hope, that this model will be replicated at all land grant universities,” said Dr. Heidi Mehl, Director of Water and Agriculture Programs for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas. “Eventually, thousands of SAVE farmers will be using best conservation practices right from the beginning of their careers. Things like no-till, cover crops, diversification, grazing for wildlife, managing for pollinators…they aren’t an afterthought, but rather deeply integrated into how SAVE teaches farming.”
A gap exists between the need for new farmers in the nation and available people interested in farming. The average age of farmers in the U.S. is approaching 60 with 40% over 65. Succession planning is critical in the country's farming future. Upon completion of training, transitioning servicemembers and veterans will be matched with mentor farmers with the potential to work on, manage or own a farm.
SAVE has a unique health care partnership in place with Konza Prairie Community Health Center, which provides care including counseling and support services for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Traumatic Brain Injury. There is early evidence that SAVE students are finding some relief from their symptoms.
“SAVE took me in when I was homeless and at my lowest. The farm’s training program brought me out of a very dark place in my life and I will now be able to own and manage a farm of my own with the confidence that I can expect to make a good living, find peace and be happy again,” wrote one graduate.
“The farm purchase is an important step for us,” said Dr. Craig Bower, CEO of SAVE. “We have been fortunate to have excellent community support, and we continue to seek partnerships and investors to keep growing.”
More information can be found at thesavefarm.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.