Unemployed U.S. veterans are often an underserved, vulnerable population that can benefit from job training. Through a partnership coordinated by Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) of Essex County, unemployed New Jersey veterans have been trained through a green job skills program focused on sustainable landscaping and stormwater management. At the East Orange Veterans Affairs Hospital, veterans were able to learn green job skills as they served as an important workforce for preventing stormwater damage and beautifying hospital grounds. The success of this effort provided a fertile ground for growing a broader program, the Rutgers Veterans Environmental Technology and Solutions Program (Rutgers V.E.T.S.) that encompasses developing these skills within an entrepreneurial framework.
In May, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Essex County launched the Rutgers V.E.T.S. program to train veterans in sustainable landscaping, stormwater management and urban agriculture. By including the key component of training in entrepreneurship, the veterans are being provided needed training and support to become small business owners by the end of the program. The program is led by Jan Zientek, senior program coordinator RCE of Essex County, and Amy Rowe, environmental and resource management agent, RCE Essex and Passaic counties.
So far, 15 veterans have been working hard to make the Rutgers V.E.T.S. program a success. They have planted new dogwoods in Essex County’s Brookdale Park and have pruned, weeded and mulched in Branch Brook Park. The hands-on fieldwork reinforces the concepts learned in the classroom and gives the vets valuable landscaping experience. The veterans have also created a new community garden in Newark that will provide fresh vegetables for the members as well as supply a local food bank this season.
Rutgers V.E.T.S. is funded by the Lower Passaic River Cooperating Parties Group, which provides an educational stipend to the veterans. This stipend enables the participants to focus full-time on mastering the knowledge and skills to begin a new career in horticulture or agriculture.