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NC State Apprenticeship Programs introduce veterans to farming

Written By Simon Gonzalez

It’s an unseasonably chilly morning at the roadside produce stand outside Mount Olive in rural Wayne County. Temperatures are forecast to reach the 60s later on, but right now it’s far from it. There’s a nippy wind that has visitors to J&J Martin Farm Produce regretting their lack of jackets and sweaters.

Darius McKoy doesn’t join in the grumbling about the weather. He’s only wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt himself, but nothing can take the smile off his face. He looks around at the collards, the kale, the turnips, the carrots, the peas. Under the tutelage of sisters Jeanette Martin Horn and Joyce Martin Bowden, owners of the farm, he had a hand in growing the produce. The cold wind can’t remove the warm glow of pride.

Sisters Jeanette Martin Horn and Joyce Martin Bowden are passing along

their farming knowledge to apprentice Darius McKoy.

With ample assistance from the sisters and an apprenticeship program administered by NC State Extension and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (a partnership of NC State and North Carolina A&T State universities, along with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services), McKoy is well on the way to fulfilling a dream.

The 40-year-old North Carolina native was preparing for retirement from the Air Force after serving his country for more than 21 years. Many veterans leaving the military are faced with the “what’s next” question. He and his wife, Shameeka, knew the answer.

“We wanted to grow our own vegetables and fruit organically,” he said. “I’d like to spread that among the community. One of our main goals is to get a contract with the school system to provide our future leaders with healthy food. Another goal is to launch a mobile vegan and juice bar.”

But how to make the dream a reality? Growing vegetables and fruit is a challenge when you’re new to farming. 

McKoy enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Hoggard High School in Wilmington. He served as a military policeman and drill instructor, among other duties. Important work, but nothing that prepared him for a second career in agriculture.

Read the remainder of this story here>>

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