Since the unfortunate events of 9/11, over 2.8 million Americans have served in uniform. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping 200,000, or about 1 in 11, are currently unemployed. The men and women who work risked their lives to protect the freedom of so many American’s enjoy on foreign soil cannot find the means to make a living when they return home. About forty-five percent of the military comes from rural communities, compared with one-sixth of the total population, according to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. The Farmer Veteran Coalition is hoping to change that trend, by introducing America’s heroes to agriculture and a new opportunity to help America.
“The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either,” said Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer who founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, which supports sustainable-agriculture training. “There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”
The Farmer Veteran Coalition works with veterans in the food and farming community in all 50 states, to provide farming education, and veteran assistance to those in need. Farmer Veterans produce a wide range of food and fiber products, all of which are an integral part of America’s food system.
“Basically we have two simultaneous missions,” comments O’Gorman. “One mission is to help the young men and women that are coming out of military service and the other mission is to help involve more farmers in an industry that is in need of younger people now more than ever.”
More than just dedication and commitment to their country can connect a farmer to a veteran. Both occupations bring with them ethics to work hard and do things right; the fearlessness to sweat and the grit to never give up. O’Gorman says one of the misconceptions is that farming is seen as a way for veterans to heal as if it were an easy, no-stress line of work.
“The real healing for our vets when it comes to farming is that it’s difficult, challenging and gives a true sense of purpose,” O’Gorman explains. “These men and women went into the military with the highest calling and sense of purpose that they could find and after their time in fatigues is through, agriculture fills that void for them to do something for the greater good and our entire country.”
One of the farmers that have found great support through the Farmer Veteran Coalition is Mark Beyers. In 2005, while deployed in Iraq, Mark’s team hit an IED, which has left him with extensive injuries. After Mark’s recovery, along with his wife Denise, who served stateside as a Unit Diary Clerk for 8 years, Mark decided to start producing maple syrup on their 15-acre property in Upstate New York. Soon the demand for their product far outweighed the couple’s capacity to produce. Mark and Denise have continued to grow their business with the assistance from the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund.
Also benefiting from the Farmer Veteran Coalition is Jeremiah Butler. Jeremiah served five years in the Marine Corps before enlisting in the Army to pursue a career in the Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Jeremiah deployed to Afghanistan where he sustained physical wounds. After Jeremiah’s service, he decided to pursue a career in agriculture. “I believe in the American small farm, and think it has a crucial part to play in the local economy and the community. I consider myself a patriot of this country and believe this is the best way I can continue to support and help her grow.” Jeremiah currently raises organic vegetables and berries in raised beds on his family’s property. As a Bob Woodruff Farming Fellow, through the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund Jeremiah was able to purchase a large greenhouse, which has enhanced his growing capabilities.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) recently announced the national launch of the Homegrown By Heroes initiative. This product-labeling program will allow farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and the like from all 50 states and U.S. territories who have served or are still serving in any branch of the U.S. military the ability to use the logo on their agricultural products. Consumers and businesses purchasing agricultural products will begin to see this logo at the point-of-purchase and on business signage, enabling them to select products that support farmer veterans.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Former President Eisenhower once said “Our adequate food supply played as important a role in winning the war as did our supply of ammunition. Thanks to the American farmer.” However, even after their military service, there are still many battles these veteran’s face. With one of the highest un-employment rates in the nation, these veterans need support. That is why its great to see programs like the Farmer Veteran Coalition helping these heroes find opportunities in agriculture, an industry we all know is very rewarding and needs an influx of young producers.
To find out more about Farmer Veteran Coalition, visit their website www.FarmVetCo.org or call their offices at (530) 756-1395. Share with them the opportunities you may have to help these dedicated individuals. Click here to download the Veteran Careers in Agriculture: A Resource Guide now.