The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is focusing extra on military veterans with Operation Grow, a program that trains and supports veteran farms.

Operation Grow also helps families gain access to resources and networking.

David Keener, a 21-year U.S. Army veteran, got help from the program by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. His family moved to Arab after years of serving in Oahu, Hawaii, and they now operate Bare Bottom Farms.

“Through Extension’s Operation Grow, we gained a wealth of knowledge,” Keener’s wife, Amber, said. “The biggest thing we learned was networking and connecting with other farmers. Connecting with them to gain knowledge and bounce ideas around was very important and lead us to connecting with other military veterans.”

While transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult, Operation Grow helped the Keeners, even during the 2022 housing crisis.

“I am not much of a prayer, but I found myself praying to find a job and somewhere to raise my family,” David Keener said. “I just wanted my children to grow up on a farm where they had to be responsible for a life other than their own.”

After many prayers and hard work, the Keener family purchased their farm. However, they still had to learn how to make it work.

From the basics of farming, they had to learn about the soil on their farm and how to run a business. They quickly became successful with the help of five of their six children and the Operation Grow program. Their farm’s slogan is now “Veteran Owned, Family Operated and Kid Approved.”

“Serving and supporting veterans after transitioning into a civilian lifestyle is such an honor,” said Operation Grow’s project coordinator Harli Willis. “Our work is to help provide veterans with the resources, training and support to begin farming and provide for their families.”

The program also helped the Keeners throughout the grant process. The Keener children are now continuing the farm family legacy by being involved with Alabama 4-H.

Veterans interested in learning about the program can find more information at the Operation Grow Registration Link.

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