The Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund announced a record $320,000 in new awards this week. The awards, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 went to 140 veterans who have already launched, but are still developing, their farm businesses. The grants are paid to third-party vendors on behalf of the veterans for things such as livestock, bee supplies, well-drilling and farm equipment.
This year’s grants put the total amount of purchases made on behalf of the five-year program to well above $1,000,000. Nine experienced farmers and agriculturists selected the grantees from a record 200 applicants.
“We received an influx of highly qualified applicants to the 2016 program,” said Rachel Petitt, Farmer Veteran Fellowship Manager. “Our Advisory Council had the difficult task of granting awards. Each application tells a story of bravery, inspiration and discovery as our members transition from the military to farming.”
“At a time when the public is concerned about where their charitable dollars go, foundations and corporations that give to our Fellowship Fund can have a direct impact on veterans as they launch their farm businesses,” said Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director of FVC.
Recently, FVC Executive Director Michael O’Gorman joined Lt. Col. Denny Gillem, U.S. Army (Ret.), on his nationally syndicated radio program Frontlines of Freedom to spread the word about Farmer Veteran Coalition. Michael’s interview begins at the 23-minute mark. Listen to the full interview to hear more details about the free, enhanced membership FVC will be launching this summer.
Listen here or visit the Frontlines of Freedom website:
DAVIS, California – Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), a national nonprofit serving military veterans in agriculture, has announced that its Michigan chapter will host the third annual Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference this fall. The conference will be held November 30 to December 2 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
FVC-Michigan will work with MSU’s Vets to Ag Program to host the conference, which will bring more than 500 farmer veterans and supporters from around the country to the university. The conference will feature workshops on agricultural topics, business planning and personal wellness. Evenings will feature distinguished speakers from the military, government agencies and leaders in the agricultural industry.
“Our national conferences have been invaluable to building this important movement,” said FVC Director Michael O’Gorman. “We’ve seen dialog launched between our federal partners turn into national policy. We’ve seen important insight into what makes farming healing for veterans turn into valuable research. And we’ve seen the veterans themselves form a supportive community that has helped them immensely in their individual endeavors.”
Attending the conference, in addition to veterans pursuing agricultural careers, will be representatives of state and federal governmental partners, universities, veteran service organizations, farm organizations, farm training programs and non-profits working to connect veterans with agriculture. Some scholarships will be available to help veterans with travel and registration.
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About Farmer Veteran Coalition: The mission of Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) is mobilizing veterans to feed America. FVC works to develop a new generation of farmers and food leaders, and expand viable employment and significant careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. Through mentorship, peer support and career counseling, FVC supports veterans returning to or beginning careers in the food and farming industry. For more information, please visit www.farmvetco.org.
About Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan: Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan (FVC-MI), a chartered chapter of FVC, is dedicated to support the growth and success of Michigan’s military veterans through agriculture. FVC-MI develops and administers programs specifically designed to meet the needs of farmer veterans in the state of Michigan. In addition, FVC-MI collaborates with veteran organizations within the state to ensure Michigan farmer veterans are given the best opportunities to become successful and sustainable within the agricultural community.
When Farmer Veteran Coalition assumed stewardship of the Homegrown By Heroes label from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in 2013, FVC Executive Director Michael O’Gorman had one goal: expand the label to a nationally recognized brand that differentiates farmer veteran products in competitive markets.
Today, thanks to generous support from Farm Credit, the Homegrown By Heroes label has expanded to more than 500 members representing 46 states plus Puerto Rico. Of those 46 states, Homegrown By Heroes has officially partnered with 15 state departments of agriculture to promote the label in conjunction with their own “Buy Local” labels.
The 15 partnered states are: Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Maine, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Missouri.
Seeing rapid growth since FVC began administering the label on Veterans Day 2013, Homegrown By Heroes producers generated an estimated $50 million in sales in 2015. After extending the agreement with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in December to continue administering the label, Farmer Veteran Coalition expects sales to continue rising. Since January, when the Member Relations team took over, the Homegrown By Heroes label has grown 25%.
Farmer Veteran Coalition member Matt Soldano, a Marine and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, owns and operates Southtown Farms in Mahwah, New Jersey. Specializing in pasture raised poultry and pork, and grass-fed beef, Soldano has been selling under the Homegrown By Heroes label for nearly two years.
“Homegrown By Heroes has been a great addition to our business marketing,” said Soldano, who served as a field artillery operator with 3rd Battalion, 10 Marine Regiment. “It helps us tell our story about being a veteran farm without browbeating people into listening.”
Soldano also says the Homegrown By Heroes label goes a long way toward attracting and retaining customers.
“The HBH label helps start a conversation,” he said. “From that conversation, a lot of reluctant customers will make a small purchase just to help support us. Usually 90% of those reluctant customers will return because they really feel like they got a great product. The HBH label helps get customers in the door and gives us a chance to make them regular customers.”
Benjamin Martin, one of three Marine veteran founders of Dauntless Wine Company in Cornelius, Oregon, recently certified his winery under the Homegrown By Heroes label. Martin, an OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, is looking forward to incorporating the HBH logo on Dauntless Wine Company’s picturesque wine labels.
“For me, it makes sense to sell under the Homegrown By Heroes label because of the instant recognition, credibility and authenticity it provides,” said Martin, who served as an assault amphibian vehicle crewman in the Marines. “Not only that, but the label puts a call out to veterans that there is an urgent need for a new generation of farmers—it’s time to answer that call once again.”
Established by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in 2013, Homegrown By Heroes is available to farmers, ranchers and fishermen who own 50% or more of a business or operation, and are veterans of the armed forces with a characterization of service of Honorable or General (Under Honorable Conditions). Value-added producers can be certified when 50% or more of non-water ingredients are produced by veterans in the program.
Taking care of our own is one of the most important tenets of military culture. Regardless of branch of service, the armed forces is a proud band of brothers and sisters where you can always count on someone ‘watching your six.’
After transitioning back into the civilian world, many veterans immediately notice an absence of camaraderie and sense of community that typifies the military lifestyle. The civilian workforce just doesn’t value these ideals in the same way.
Army veterans Greggory DeBoer and Chad Tackett recently proved this mentality is alive and well among the Farmer Veteran Coalition membership.
Last month, Tackett, who owns and operates Tackett Family Farm and Ranch in Lincolnton, Georgia, was looking to expand his cattle operation by adding a bull to service his herd. After hearing about a potentially great deal by a seller in Alabama, Tackett began frantically planning how he would get out to Alabama and transport the bull back to Georgia without a functioning trailer, which was in need of repair.
Having connected with a number of members through the FVC Facebook page, Tackett, an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, immediately thought about DeBoer, who owns and operates Veteran Farms in Baileyton, Alabama. Though the two had only casually spoken to each other on Facebook and had never met face to face, Tackett asked DeBoer if he could make the 90-mile trip to the seller in Berry, Alabama, and hold onto the bull until he could make arrangements to pick it up.
Without thinking twice, DeBoer, who was already planning on passing through Georgia on his way to North Carolina that weekend, not only agreed to pick up the bull, but also to deliver it to Tackett’s farm more than 300 miles away.
“I was ecstatic,” said Tackett about his reaction when DeBoer told him he’d deliver the bull to his farm. “I was trying to jump through hoops to figure out how I was going to get to Alabama to get this bull. I’m extremely appreciative. He helped me out more than I would have asked him to.”
After being contacted by Tackett at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, DeBoer was out the door by 8:30 a.m. the next morning to pick up the bull. Upon arriving at the seller’s farm, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
“I was hoping to show up, load the bull and come back home, but it turned into an all-day adventure,” said DeBoer, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. “The first bull I went to get jumped the fence and away he went.”
Fortunately, the seller had a second bull to offer for half the price of the first bull. DeBoer sized up the bull and Tackett gave him the green light to buy it. Then things got interesting again.
“We had to actually rope the bull and drag it by the horns through about a four-acre pasture,” DeBoer said. “This was no easy task and took about three hours of fighting it. We finally got him on the trailer and on the way we went back to the farm.”
DeBoer cared for the bull over the next three days, feeding him from a bucket and earning his trust, all while updating Tackett with daily photos. When it came time for DeBoer to deliver the bull to Tackett’s farm, he enlisted the support of his friend, Matt Roemer, who has been a cattleman for 38 years.
“Matt came over to the farm and I was schooled on how to load the bull,” he said. “I learned a ton by watching him work the bull. Had it not been for Matt, I may still be trying to load that bull up.”
Delivering the bull without incident, DeBoer was greeted by an appreciative Tackett, who named the new bull “Tecumseh.”
This wasn’t DeBoer’s first time looking out for fellow farmer veterans. Last month, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for farmer veterans as part of a series of ‘fly-ins’ sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to meet with senators and representatives to build support for sustainable agriculture programs.
Both DeBoer and Tackett agree that farmer veterans share a special bond through serving in two of America’s most noble professions: military and farming.
“I think that farmers as a whole would go the extra mile to help each other out,” said DeBoer, who recently planted 9,000 onions by hand on his farm with his wife and son. “I think you add veteran to this, and it just intensifies that bond and the willingness to go the extra mile to help a fellow farmer, and, even more so, another veteran.”
Now that Tecumseh is on the farm, Tackett is looking forward to many successful calving seasons that will keep him stocked with calves for years to come. He’s also looking forward to having DeBoer back out to his ranch to “cook some steak over a fire with a cold beer.”
To honor farmer veterans and their service to our country, Successful Farming magazine and Grasshopper mowers have teamed up for a new contest called From Fighter to Farmer. The contest invites farmer veterans—or their friends and family—to share their story for a chance to be one of three farmer veterans who will receive a $5,000 cash prize plus a three-day, all-inclusive trip for two people to Nashville, Tennessee.
These three farmer veterans will also be highlighted in a feature article in Successful Farming magazine next November and on Agriculture.com. Starting in October, you’ll be able to vote online for one of the veterans. The farmer veteran with the most votes will receive $10,000 to spend at Grasshopper mowers, in addition to the $5,000 cash prize and trip to Nashville.
• Your name, phone number and email address – if nominating a farmer veteran
• Farmer veteran name, phone number, email address, and mailing address.
• Military branch, length of active-duty service, and whether the farmer veteran became disabled while on active military service.
• In 500 words or less, describe the farmer veteran’s military experience, farming operation, and involvement in the community.
Or mail your entry, with the info above, to:
Successful Farming Fighter to Farmer
1716 Locust Street/LS257
Des Moines, Iowa 50309-3023
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Subject to Official Rules at http://www.Agriculture.com/fightertofarmerrules. Begins at 12:01 a.m. CT on 2/1/16 and ends at 11:59 p.m. CT on 4/30/16. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia, 13 years or older. Void in Alaska, Hawaii, and where prohibited. Sponsor: Meredith Corporation.
With Spring upon us and planting season right around the corner, Farmer Veteran Coalition is pleased to announce a new member benefit courtesy of Dadant & Sons, Inc., the largest manufacturer of beekeeping supplies in the United States.
The new benefit provides Farmer Veteran Coalition members with a 10% discount on in-store purchases but does not include medicines, feed or bulk containers.
To use the benefit at one of Dadant’s 11 nationwide locations, inform the representative that you are an FVC member interested in using the 10% discount. The representative will then need to verify your membership with FVC, which may include making a phone call to their main office, so be sure to bring your state-issued identification card and military or Veterans Affairs identification card, if possible.
Based in Hamilton, Illinois, Dadant & Sons, Inc., has been operating in the United States since 1863, but the Dadant family has been interested in beekeeping for more than 180 years dating back to founder Charles Dadant’s childhood in Vaux-Soux-Aubigny, France. As a beekeeping industry leader, Dadant & Sons, Inc., has been publishing the American Bee Journal—originally established in 1861 by Samuel Wagner—since 1912, which holds the distinction of being the oldest English-language beekeeping publication in the world.
Dadant & Sons, Inc., has branches in the following locations:
•Waverly, New York
•Sioux City, Iowa
•High Springs, Florida
For more information about Dadant & Sons, Inc., please visit their website at www.dadant.com.
Photo published courtesy of Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
With the goal of equipping women veterans with business and farming tools, Farmer Veteran Coalition hosted its third Empowering Women Veterans: Business, Agriculture and Well-Being Conference March 4-5, 2016, for more than 80 people at the prestigious Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York.
The free conference was open to all active duty and veteran women, as well as women who farm with veterans. It featured daily on-site workshops in sheep production, year-round vegetable production, and farm-to-restaurant sales as well as educational presentations given by women veterans and other experts.
“As a woman veteran and a farmer, attending this conference has made my life better,” said Althea Raiford, Navy veteran and co-owner of Gilliard Farms, who has attended all three conferences. “The resources provided and the connections made cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
The keynote address was given by Dr. Anu Rangarajan, horticulture faculty member at Cornell University, who serves as the Statewide Fresh Market Vegetable Specialist and directs Cornell University’s Small Farm Program.
Additional speakers included Col. Cindy Chastain, Farmer Veteran Outreach Coordinator for the National AgrAbility Project, who spoke about her experiences in Afghanistan with an Agricultural Development Team and Dr. Tasha Hargrove, an Air Force veteran and assistant to the dean at Tuskegee University, who spoke about careers in agriculture for women.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic food sales in the United States have shown double-digit growth during most years since 1990, with sales approaching $37 billion last year alone. To meet this growing demand, Farmer Veteran Coalition created the Veteran Organic Training Program.
Established in September 2015, the Veteran Organic Training Program is designed to cover FVC member’s costs to organically certify their farms, from the new application fee through certification.
Organic certification verifies that a farm or handling facility complies with USDA organic regulations and allows producers to sell, label, and represent their products as organic. The USDA organic regulations recognize four categories of organic products: crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.
While the costs and fees associated with organic certification vary depending on the size and scope of the operation, FVC is fortunate to have two organic certifying agencies—California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth—on board that will waive new application and base certification fees respectively, removing a crucial barrier to initiate the organic certification process.
Because the new application/base certification fees are only a portion of the fees associated with organic certification, United Natural Foods, Inc., has awarded FVC with a $6,000 grant to cover the remaining costs of organic certification. These funds, which will be administered on a first come, first serve basis, can be used for inspection fees and other costs associated with the inspection process.
To utilize this program, an FVC member would first select which certifying agency they prefer to work with. California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth both waive the initial fees, however, FVC members must have enough money on-hand to cover the remaining certification fees. Upon completion of the certification process, members would then submit documentation to FVC for reimbursement.
Since the Veteran Organic Training Program’s inception, FVC has assisted five members with organic certification, all of which are still navigating the process.
“The organic certification process can be lengthy,” said Aaron Magill, manager of the Veteran Organic Training Program. “Often auditors need to see plants in the ground, farming practices in action, livestock birthing, et cetera, before an organic certification can be given. Everything from record keeping to farming practices will be scrutinized, but FVC will advise and assist every step of the way.”
For members who aren’t sure if organic certification makes sense for their operation, or have questions about the process, FVC and CCOF are hosting a series of webinars in the coming months covering topics such as where to start to get certified organic, organic recordkeeping, and labeling organic produce. The first webinar, ‘Go Organic,’ will be held April 21, and will detail the steps necessary to begin organic farming or transition existing operations toward organic certification.
Farmer Veteran Coalition member Kelly Carlisle (center) of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project shares her story of transitioning from military to agriculture while FVC members James Brady (left) of Con10u2farm, L3C, and Vonita Murray (right) of Mariposa Valley Farm listen. As part of the 29th California Small Farm Conference held March 5-8 in Sacramento, California, FVC hosted a workshop titled ‘Veterans in Agriculture: A Solution to the Decreasing Farmer Population.’ The workshop, which was held in a roundtable discussion format, informed attendees of the challenges facing veterans embarking on careers in agriculture, and the unique skill sets that make veterans the perfect demographic for replacing the decreasing farmer population.