The Hudson-Essex-Passaic SCD provided funds to the Rutgers Veterans Environmental Technology and Solutions (VETS) programs. VETS’ mission is to improve the lives of unemployed veterans in Newark, N.J., and to work with them to protect the Lower Passaic River watershed. Run by Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Essex County, the program provides local, unemployed veterans with urban agriculture training and new green job skills. It promotes trainees’ civic engagement and leadership by working with a broad cross-section of the Newark community to revitalize distressed neighborhoods through green infrastructure projects. It increases healthy eating lifestyles for families and children in Newark through an active greenhouse and community garden.
This vocational training program is designed to provide veterans with the skills and resources needed to obtain employment within the green economy (i.e. horticulture, landscaping, agriculture, stormwater management, environmental restoration). Participants can interact with experts from Rutgers University and industry professionals. This program was a combination of both instructional academic lectures and hands-on vocational training in the field.
In partnership with the district, the Rutgers VETS program provided education and outreach in urban agriculture to military veterans and local residents in a variety of ways. The program coordinator was a military veteran hired through the grant. He provided local leadership by hosting workshops, teaching both in and out of the classroom, and planning and implementing urban agriculture at the lot, school and neighborhood levels. He taught 22 workshops in Newark, Jersey City, Clifton, Paterson and East Orange, reaching more than 280 people (35% were military veterans.) The workshops were open to all local residents, but veterans were targeted in recruiting and given preference when class sizes were limited.
The coordinator and a dedicated crew of veterans planned and maintained a community garden in the heart of Newark and provided informal outreach to local residents. A high tunnel was also purchased, which will be located in Passaic County for greenhouse management and plant propagation experience to area residents while expanding the growing season.
One of the veteran participants was a beekeeper who volunteered time to teach beekeeping to residents of East Orange through hands-on workshops. Supplies and bees were purchased for the bee yard expansion at the East Orange teaching site. The beekeeper is also working with Rutgers VETS on the East Orange Sustainable Food Alliance.
Rutgers VETS will continue through several partnerships. It is currently recruiting veteran trainees for a basic urban horticulture program in partnership with the City of East Orange, and the East Orange Veterans Affairs hospital as part of the East Orange Sustainable Food Alliance. VETS is working with a local non-profit, La Casa de Don Pedro, to provide job placement for veterans and others who have gone through urban horticulture training in Newark. The program will continue to support all trainees by providing supplies, access to tools, and expertise when issues arise.
Plans are underway for horticultural training for veterans in a more traditional agriculture setting at the Rutgers Snyder Research Farm in rural Pittstown. Trainees will have hands-on training in orchard management, small fruit growing and field crop planning. Finally, Rutgers VETS will sustain its partnership with the SCD to educate program attendees about healthy soils and sustainable practices.