Chastain speaks to congressional committee on AgrAbility’s vital role for veterans

June 20, 2016

Chastain speaks to congressional committee on AgrAbility’s vital role for veterans

Cindra Chastain, veteran outreach coordinator for the National AgrAbility Project based at Purdue University, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture about the importance of AgrAbility services to veterans interested in farming.

In her May 18 remarks, Chastain encouraged the committee to continue supporting efforts of AgrAbility, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and to consider how its services could be expanded to 30 states that do not yet receive funding for it. She noted that they include some of the nation’s most important agricultural states, such as Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Florida, Oregon, Alabama and Washington.

“As a veteran and a farmer, and now as a provider of AgrAbility services, I am keenly aware of the benefits this program has had on the lives of many farmer veterans, including my own,” said Chastain, who served as an Army officer for more than 31 years, including as deputy commander of the 1-19th Agribusiness Development Team from 2008 to 2010. The team was deployed to Afghanistan 2009-10.

Chastain began employment with AgrAbility in 2014 following her retirement from the Army. She continues to serve as president of the family-owned Chastain Farms Inc. in Crawfordsville, and she and her husband also operate their own small hobby farm.

Chastain told the committee that AgrAbility is vital to helping supply the nation with farmers as their numbers decline.

“With the estimated dearth of farmers to take this country into the next 20 to 30 years, we need veterans to consider careers in agriculture,” she said.

Chastain gave the committee a history of AgrAbility, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary in helping people with disabilities stay productive in agriculture, and its predecessor, the Breaking New Ground Resource Center in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. She pointed out that AgrAbility efforts are carried out through the Cooperative Extension Service in partnership with other organizations.

Many of the first clientele of the program were veterans who had come home to their farms and rural communities with service-related disabilities, she said.

Committee members learned of the experiences of many of them, including a disabled World War II Navy veteran who was expanding his New York dairy operation to include blueberry production and needed better ways to improve his mobility throughout the dairy farm and blueberry patch.

Another client was a North Carolina man who returned home from Vietnam with both legs missing above the knees and an arm amputation at the shoulder after stepping on a land mine. “He eventually became a successful custom hay producer, baling tens of thousands of bales of hay annually for his neighbors,” Chastain said.

A recently served client is a former Air Force nurse who served a tour of duty in Iraq and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. Through encouragement and consultation, she has earned organic certification for her farm and is diversifying her operation.

Chastain reported to the committee that a review of 65 AgrAbility clients in Indiana who received services from AgrAbility and the Indiana Department of Vocational Rehabilitation beginning in 2006 found that 61 are still engaged in agriculture 10 years later – and on the same farm – and are receiving all or part of their income from agricultural production. 

She told the committee that AgrAbility’s success is also evident through comments by clients, including a farmer veteran from Missouri who wrote this:  “I would say to any farmer that has not experienced AgrAbility, you need to get up, open your eyes and take a look. AgrAbility has helped every farmer that I have spoken to tremendously and made them proud. So if you haven’t seen AgrAbility, it will put a smile on your face. All those negatives that say you can’t do that, through AgrAbility and a little will of (your own), you will go a long way.“

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PHOTO CAPTION:

From left: Col. John Fant (Ret.); Col. John Lemondes (Ret.); Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas, committee chair; Staff Sgt. Eric Grandon (Ret.); Col. Cindy Chastain (Ret.); Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois.

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