During 2003-2004, when Adam Burke was in Iraq on a tour of duty as an infantry Army soldier (16-months), returning to the states to work in farming wasn’t what he had in mind.
“I went to college to prepare to work for corporate America, but I found myself drawn to my farming roots,” said Burke, the founder of Veterans Farm, in Jacksonville. Burke explained that although he was raised on a blueberry farm, and comes from a family of several generations of farmers, he was the first generation not to go directly into farming. “I joined the military to get away from it all,” added Burke.
Burke, a former Army sergeant, combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was injured in a mortar attack in Iraq and became a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Instead of letting the experience keep him down, he used it as a catalyst to dedicate his life to helping others. In 2009, Burke founded Veterans Farm to help disabled combat veterans reintegrate into society by way of agriculture.
All told, this 19-acre farm has assisted 116 veterans. The farm provides a 6-month Beginning Farmer Fellowship Program, where veterans can learn the skills and gain the education they need to start their own farm or to work for a large farming organization.
On-site, the farm grows and sells blueberries, herbs, vegetables and datil peppers (exceptionally hot) — all grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Two fishponds, goats for meat production and beehives are also found on the farm. For veterans who are coming in from out of the local area, housing is found for them.
When it’s blueberry season, the farm is a popular choice for the local general population. “On Saturdays, we can have upwards of 500 or more people visit the farm to purchase our products,” said Burke.
After completion of the fellowship program, veterans are further assisted. “In our post alumni program, we offer veterans additional training and match them with mentoring farmers,” said Burke, who explained that they also find resources for fellowship graduates, such as help in leasing land or with the expense of a start up.
In addition to farming opportunities offered through the fellowship program, Veterans Farm has also made donations to veterans. “We have donated several tractors, trucks, equipment, tools and seed money, as well as leased land for them.”
Although the fellowship is currently a six-month program, soon Veterans Farm will be offering an intensive three-month accredited program through partnership with the University of Florida. UF will teach all of the classes, in tangent, there will also be hands-on field production, and studies in agricultural management. Certifications will be offered to fellowship graduates in Organic Practices, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HAACP), a production-control system that is mandatory for meat, poultry and fish, and other foods, and is a voluntary system for produce.
The training is designed to help beginning farmers and ranchers learn or increase their skills and education in farming and ranching. “We partner with several other local farms, as well those in other areas, to help provide training to our veterans,” said Burke. Burke explained that having a partner is key to learning as the farming partners bring experience and new farming techniques that they can teach to Veterans Farm’s fellowship students.
In 2012, Adam Burke was awarded a Presidential Citizens Medal by President Barack Obama. In 2013, he was recognized by 5-hour ENERGY’s Helps Amazing People program. In 2011, The Good People Foundation acknowledged him as a Good Person of the Year. Also, during 2011, Burke received the Star of Honor from Work Vessels for Veterans. Furthermore, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville have all recognized Burke’s efforts.
Burke explained his choice in returning to his farming roots in order to help himself and other disabled combat veterans adapt and reintegrate into civilian life, “Coming from several generations of farmers, farming is in my blood.”
For more information:
5571 Long Branch Rd
Jacksonville, FL 32234