With the number of U.S. farms declining and the average age of American farmers now at 58 years, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been seeking ways to attract a new generation to the land.
Recognizing an opportunity to tackle this problem and simultaneously serve the country’s veterans, Al Muñoz created the Returning Veterans to Agriculture Project, a website to help those who have served in the military find the resources and information they need to return to farms in rural communities or to start careers in agriculture.
“We have a large number of young people who are coming back from service and no one is encouraging them to go back to work on the family farm. So I started developing a transition guide and then built the website,” said Muñoz, a project manager in USDA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.
Launched in December 2013, the website includes information on USDA grant and loan programs, real-time agricultural job announcements from USAJOBS.gov and from the private sector, and plug-ins from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There also is information on starting small farms, on educational and training opportunities and details from the 2014 farm bill that created special incentives for veterans seeking to work in agriculture.
From its initial launch, the site, www.RV2A.org, has attracted more than 6,000 veterans, and now averages about 750 unique visitors per month. In addition, visitors return an average of three to five times to find more information.
Muñoz was so passionate about this cause that he developed the website on his own time and at no cost to USDA, using an existing web platform and gaining buy-in from USDA leadership to ensure successful implementation. While Muñoz served in the military, he said it was his daughter, an Iraq war veteran, who inspired him to develop this tool.
“My daughter came back from Iraq a couple of years ago and she struggled after leaving the military,” said Muñoz. “That was what I was thinking of—giving these vets a chance to find themselves. They can do that if we can just give them the resources to make the connections.”
Muñoz said the site fills a void by serving as a centralized “one-stop shop” for veterans to gather farming-related information from a variety of USDA agencies and programs, and from the private, nonprofit and education sectors.
Joyce Hunter, deputy chief information officer for policy and planning at USDA, said Muñoz is “very resourceful and pro-active in addressing problems.” She said he came up with the idea to create a centralized website to provide resources to veterans and then made it happen.
“If he sees a challenge, he always comes up with solutions and sees challenges as opportunities to help,” said Hunter. “He is able to bring coalitions of the willing together to work toward goals that not only benefit individuals programs and agencies, but the department as a whole.”
Becky Wright-Brizee of the nonprofit SourceAmerica, who has worked with Muñoz, said he had the vision and the foresight to be a change agent.
“He is able to create the collaborative environments where success is made possible,” said Wright-Brozee.
Muñoz said most of the visitors to the website have been looking for grants and loans to start their own farms, which is exactly what USDA is trying to encourage. He also said many others are using the site to search for educational opportunities in farming, ranching, fishing and forestry.
“We weren’t reaching veterans before and now they are showing significant interest,” said Muñoz.
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at email@example.com.