Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Army Veteran Behind the Plow Uses GI Bill to Fund On-The Farm Training

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Army Veteran Behind the Plow Uses GI Bill to Fund On-The Farm Training

Article excerpt

From 2000 to 2003, Michael Modugno served in the army as a machine gunner in the 101st Airborne division.

Today, he's preparing fields and growing vegetables at the Dillner Family Farm in West Deer. He never thought the pastime would turn into a vocation, but it has.

"I didn't think I would be doing it for a living, but I just kind of took the plunge," said Mr. Modugno, 33, of Freedom. "I always did it as a hobby, gardening, so I kind of thought that it would be great for me to do as a job. It kind of keeps me calm. It's nice to be outside."

Mr. Modugno began his search for farm work in the fall of 2014. After he was honorably discharged, he spent two years at his dad's carpentry shop and 10 at his family's restaurant in Bridgeport, Conn.

But, according to Mr. Modugno, the state's tax rate made it difficult to earn a living, so he decided to look at farms in Pittsburgh, liking the fact that, as he said, the area has both a city and country feel.

He didn't have much luck at first.

Some of the farms he visited didn't need help or thought he lacked experience. Then he met the Dillners, who have a farm roughly 20 miles northeast of Downtown.

The Dillners grow fruits and vegetables and run a community- supported agriculture program, where people pay a fee and receive a share of the produce.

Mr. Modugno started working part-time with the Dillners in March 2015 before officially beginning in May 2015 through an on-the-job training program, allotted through his Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The training allows for a veteran to learn a trade or skill through job participation as opposed to attending formal classes. That was a perfect fit for Mr. Modugno, who wasn't interested in a traditional college education.

There are more than 100 veterans in agricultural degree programs throughout the Commonwealth, according to the Department of Education, but Mr. Modugno is the only one who has used his benefits for an on-the-job farming program.

"I think it's great because you're not limited to going to a conventional college," said Mr. Modugno. "I'm not for that, it's not my gig, so the fact that it gave me an opportunity to learn what I like actually by doing it is a huge plus. …

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