Several veterans, including Grandon, are using their own land to grow their crops and raise livestock.
Grandon has harvested sorghum, which is the main ingredient in molasses, but hasn't found success yet.
"I was unable to grow sorghum this year," Grandon said. "It was a lot of mistakes on my part. The weather was another major factor...there was so much rain. However, it was a learning experience. I know how to improve for next year."
Grandon rotor tilled his sorghum field, a task that took him nearly three weeks to complete. He planted winter rye to prep his field for winter. The rye produces a ground cover that holds soil in place against the forces of wind and water. It also prevents compaction in tilled fields. Grandon does not use any spray or pesticides on his crops.
"I didn't do well but I had fun," Grandon said. "Farmers typically do not make a lot of money, especially with all the expenses involved. Although money is good, I mainly farm for the therapeutic value. I have regained my life. I've found my purpose and that is what truly matters to me."
Ready to work
Grandon is preparing to build a barn on his property that will house dorper lambs, a breed raised for their meat rather than their wool. He plans to get five lambs in the spring and plans rotational grazing that will maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth.
In addition, Grandon will be learning how to raise honeybees and will be given equipment to get started. Work Vessels for Veterans, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans with the necessary tools and equipment to embark upon their civilian careers, will sponsor a beekeeping project and will pay for start-up equipment. The equipment, such as two hives and protective jackets, totals near $3,200 for each veteran taking part in Saturday's beekeeping class.
"I want to make this happen," Grandon said. "There's nothing like having a sense of responsibility and accountability. What you reap is what you sow. I think the honeybee business will be good for me. My wife is already working on designing something for the honeybees. She's excited too."
Grandon has been married for 25 years and the two have a 3-year-old daughter.
"She has seen the good and the bad," Grandon said. "Farming has changed my life. My wife sees me like she used to see me. I'm excited again. I had nowhere to go until I met James. He has the potential to help so many people. My goal is to get other veterans interested in agriculture or in starting an agriculture-related business."
McCormick said he hopes to take veterans with no agricultural experience and team them up with other veteran farmers to learn basics such as harvesting crops and raising livestock. He currently is doing this at Raising Cane, his 15-acre farm where he grows bamboo and sorghum.
BethAnn Earl is the owner of Noni's Farm, an urban garden near Huntington, and is a veteran as well. She, too, is excited about the veterans-to-agriculture project. McCormick said she will be taking the initiative to educate veterans on growing fresh vegetables for consumption.
"As a farmer, you can't afford to hire people," Tabb said. "Farmers are jacks of all trades. We want to educate veterans on everything from laying water lines, plumbing, carpentry and nutrition.
"West Virginians consume $7.1 billion in food product each year. Less than $1 billion of it comes from producers in the state. This project is an opportunity to produce more food product here in West Virginia. We can raise chicken and pork that can sustain the state. The state's goal is to have a sustainable food supply and we've already seen minimal growth in agricultural activity."
Tabb points to the poultry processing plant in Moorefield that employs nearly 1,500 people. He said the top employer in Hardy County is agriculture, whereas a majority of other counties have their school systems or medical industries as their top employers.
"There's a lot of soil not being utilized in West Virginia," Tabb said. "There's no reason why agriculture can't be the top employer in most of our counties."
The project will offer veteran farmers a logo they can use for their products and/or agribusiness-related items or services that clearly identifies them as a West Virginia veteran farmer. McCormick said a logo is in the works and should be finalized in the coming weeks.
"What soldiers are doing with missiles and mortars overseas makes what we do here possible," McCormick said.
"When it comes to supporting and aiding our veterans, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle come together. We need to make this work. There are veterans who are ready to lie down and die and we are not ready to let them."
For more information, call James McCormick at 304-206-6065 or the West Virginia Department of Agriculture at 304-558-3200.
Contact writer John Gibb at john.g...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.