Testimony of Representative Craig Hickman, LD 409: An Act To Establish a Veteran-To-Farmer Training Pilot Program Before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs
March 13, 2013
March 13, 2013
Good afternoon Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. I stand before you today to present LD 409, “An Act To Establish a Veteran-to-Farmer Training Pilot Program.”
As some of you know, I am the son of a Tuskegee Airman who, because of the color of his skin, couldn’t get a job as an air traffic controller at the municipal airport in my native city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when he returned from World War II in 1946.
Hazelle Hickman taught me how to grow things. If we didn’t live in a city, I’m sure he would have worked the land as a farmer, so passionate was he about growing healthy food in a small backyard garden to feed his family. When he passed away at the age of 87 six years ago tomorrow, he left a whole in my soul as big as the lake upon which my farm in Winthrop sits. To recover from the loss of a man who taught me about discipline, respect, honor and dignity, about how to rise up after being knocked down, about how to love, how to live, I began working the land, ultimately becoming an organic farmer. Becoming an organic farmer led me to become an elected official, fulfilling a dream he always had for me.
I, too, have a dream.
Imagine if we assisted veterans, especially young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to help them heal from the trauma of war and thrive as farmers. As the Adjutant General of Maine told us in joint session just yesterday, Maine boasts a large contingent of courageous men and women who serve at home and abroad. Imagine if we offered some of them hands-on training in sustainable agriculture alongside classroom instruction in business planning and development in order to revitalize the family farm.
I have a dream.
In order to move Maine toward prosperity, we need to cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders. One way, not the only way, mind you, but one way we can do this is to develop viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities here in Maine.
I believe that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems. Many veterans return home to high unemployment rates in rural communities. They possess a strong work ethic, understand meritocracy, where performance is measured by both mental and physical strength. Farming is an honorable, noble and patriotic profession where you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Literally. Fulfilling a fundamental societal need will continue to provide veterans a sense of service to their communities and to their country. Who better to serve our citizens here at home than those who have served us so well abroad?
It’s time we help turn our protectors into our providers.
Attached, you will find the guiding principles of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a national non-profit organization which mobilizes veterans to feed America. In addition to my father, the work of this organization inspired LD409.
Let us mobilize veterans to feed Maine.
While the bill before you is presented as a concept draft, I believe the language of the draft as written could easily be turned into a resolve, if this committee so decides in work session, to direct the entities involved to begin curriculum development should the bill pass in both chambers.
I humbly ask that you vote ought to pass on LD409. Thank you.