Reaching Urban Veterans through Urban Horticulture
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM PDT.
Rutgers Veterans Environmental Technology and Solutions (RVETS) provides a structured learning environment to introduce unemployed or underemployed US military veterans to urban agriculture, aquaponics and organic land care as career options. RVETS also encourages veterans to become business owners in their community through entrepreneurship training in collaboration with the Rutgers-Newark School of Business.
RVETS provides over 1000 hours of training to 10-15 veterans over the course of 6 months along with an hourly stipend. Trainees work in county parks, community gardens and greening projects, and school gardens. Food from the gardens and greenhouses tended by RVETS is donated to a local soup kitchen.
Learn about the development and operations of RVETS from program co-founder Jan Zientek. Jan, the acting Agricultural Agent and County Extension Department Head for Essex County began formally working with veterans in 2008 at the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey, where he created a garden training program which was integrated into the VA Compensated Work Therapy program. Jan will share how RVETS evolved, and strategies for creating partnerships and serving veterans in other urban communities.
Since 2001, Jan has been the director of Rutgers Urban Gardening, a community gardening program active in Newark and surrounding communities of Essex County since 1978. Jan graduated Cook College (now Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences) with a degree in Conservation Ecology. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (1985-88), where he worked with local farmers to improve farm sustainability through agro-forestry practices. He completed a MS in Environmental Sociology at the University of Washington where his research examined rural communities’ response to scientific experts managing an environmental program (the land application of biosolids).
Jan has been involved in community development and environmental justice issues throughout his career and this experience has informed his work in Rutgers Cooperative Extension. It was his role as manager of the Rutgers Master Gardener that created the opportunity to offer horticultural training to veterans at the VA/East Orange in 2008 when a Rutgers Master Gardener (a veteran) asked to start a community garden at the hospital. In 2010, he worked with Dr. Amy Rowe to expand the veteran training program to include water quality and storm water management techniques, a program which evolved to become the Rutgers VETS program in 2014.