Linda Geist

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $179,614 grant to the University of Missouri to support efforts to help veterans, Latinos, women and socially disadvantaged persons to farm or go into agribusiness.

The grant will fund eight workshops over the course of a year, said MU Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

MU Extension specialists will offer “Understanding the Alphabet Soup of USDA Programs” and “Grow Your Farm” near military bases and “StrikeForce zones,” locations USDA has identified as high-poverty areas. The MU sessions explain available USDA resources and offer agriculture business education.

Funkenbusch and MU rural sociologist Eleazar Gonzalez serve as co-program directors. Funkenbusch also serves as director of the Missouri AgrAbility Project, which assists the growing population of farmers and ranchers living with disabilities to help them remain active in production agriculture.

Gonzalez has worked extensively with beginning Latino farmers and ranchers. He will lead four workshops in Spanish in areas with large Latino populations.

MU Extension specialists will offer the beginning farmer series in rural and urban areas near Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base and Scott Air Force Base. Specialists Patricia Barrett, Debi Kelly, Nathanial Cahill and Jim Spencer Jr. will teach the “Grow Your Farm” program.

The grant comes at a critical time, said Funkenbusch. “Returning veterans and Latinos represent the fastest-growing groups of beginning farmers and ranchers in Missouri.”

The Missouri Veterans Commission expects approximately 300,000 veterans to return to their rural Missouri roots in the next decade. “Many of them will seek work in agriculture,” Funkenbusch said. “There was a 39 percent increase in farms operated by Latinos between 1997 and 2002.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the award as part of an $8.4 million set of grants awarded in 24 states through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 Program.

For more information, contact Karen Funkenbusch at 573-884-1268 or

USDA also created a streamlined claims process for Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers in 2011 to address past claims of discrimination. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to improve its Civil Rights record, visit the USDA Results project on and read Chapter 8, “The People’s Department: A New Era for Civil Rights at USDA.”

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