IOWA -- About 8 percent of Iowa's farmers have served in the military, nearly 13,000. That is a little under the national average of 10 percent. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the vast majority of them are above the age of 65.
Michael Simester, a Muscatine County farmer and veteran, says, "There are all kinds of programs for people who are first-time farmers in Iowa. And if you're a veteran first-time farmer, there's even more options for you."
Simester is medically retired from the Army and owns Serendipity Farms. They raise garden vegetables, chickens and goats.
Circumstance with his injuries made it necessary to move out to the countryside, so he got some land and tried something new.
"I really didn't feel like doing much and I just kind of wanted to sit there and not do anything. But I knew that wasn't good so I had to do something." Simester says, "Since I had the land and the opportunity out here, maybe I should talk with the Easterseals folks and the Vocational Rehab with the VA about maybe trying to make something more out of my property than just a big yard to mow a couple of times a week."
There's an initiative to get more veterans into agriculture. Easterseals Iowa is one group that helps connect and support military members pursue farming.
But in Iowa, the support doesn't stop there according to Simester, "What I would tell anybody who has, particularly someone in my situation who has never done any type of agriculture until you were ready to take the leap, with agriculture there are a wealth of individuals, particularly in the state of Iowa that are willing to help and are willing to provide assistance to you."
Simester called up his local National Resource Conservation Service office as well as the Farm Service Agency, "Because when I was out here doing what I was doing for the first three or four years, there was no way on earth I thought I was a farmer. I thought I was some guy who had some dirt and occasionally showed up at the local farmers market to get rid of the stuff you couldn't eat. But the NRCS guys and the farm service guys talked to me like I was a 1,200 acre sharecropper that was producing food for the whole country."
Simester says he was not treated like just a veteran farmer, but like someone they wanted to see succeed; someone who mattered.
"Most of us just want to be doing something useful. And with agriculture, it's even better, because not only are you doing something useful but doing something that means something, it has a purpose. And that's the best work you can have." Simester says, "Out here at my place, a handshake deal still matters. And I think that's a big bonus for guys like me. Between that and being able to be outside on a daily basis. At least when the weather cooperates. You can't ask for a better job."