Farmer veterans and the agricultural, governmental and nonprofit partners that support them came together for the largest national gathering of the veteran and agriculture communities at the Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference November 15 to 17 at the InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.

This year’s conference, themed “From the Heartland,” was hosted in partnership with FVC of Kansas and was the fourth national conference held by Farmer Veteran.

There was a buzz in the air amongst the nearly 300 attendees as the conference kicked off with a call to order by FVC of Kansas President Ken DeVan followed by the presentation of colors by the Kansas National Guard. Then, Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn took the stage to welcome attendees to her home state before Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, spoke at length about the challenges facing American agriculture while offering optimism for the future thanks in part to the efforts of farmer veterans.

Over the course of the two-and-a-half-day conference, veterans attended breakout sessions in four focus areas: agricultural careers, animal production, crop production, and business and finance. Topics of these sessions included beekeeping, berry production, hydroponic greenhouse production, aquaculture, pastured poultry, agroforestry, food safety, growing cash flow and apprenticeships.

For Navy veteran Christopher Adolph who owns and operates Red Shirt Farms in Lampasas, Texas, the breakout sessions were extremely beneficial.

“I learned so much valuable information in the breakouts,” said Adolph, who is in his second year of farming. “When I go home I’m going to immediately start implementing the things I learned here.”

The Government Partners Panel was the first of four plenary sessions and brought together officials from USDA, Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Department of Labor and the Small Business Administration to discuss how their departments support veterans embarking on careers in agriculture. Lieutenant Col. Keith Wilson of the Army’s Solider for Life Program moderated the panel and was joined by panelists Bill Ashton from USDA, Mike Miller from the Department of Defense, Theo Coney from the Department of Labor, Dr. Karen Besterman-Dahan from Veterans Affairs, and Thomas Salisbury from the Small Business Administration.

The second day of the conference began with a special flag-raising ceremony at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Veterans representing 49 states were joined by former prisoner of war Steven Woelk, a Navy veteran who served aboard the USS Pueblo and was held captive for 11 months by North Korea in 1968. Members of the Kansas National Guard raised the U.S. and Kansas state flags and Woelk assisted them with raising the POW/MIA flag during the ceremony.

United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, who recently announced six awardees of their Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program (AgVets), introduced each organization receiving funding during the conference’s AgVets Panel. The funding, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations for training programs and services to establish and enhance farming and ranching opportunities for military veterans, was awarded to FVC, North-South Institute in Davie, Florida; Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education Corp., in Manhattan, Kansas; Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden in New Bern, North Carolina; Recipe for Success Foundation in Houston, Texas; and the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship in Medford, Wisconsin.

The Successful Farmer Veteran Panel remained a crowd favorite eliciting both tears and laughter at times as Army veterans Kevin Schenker of Schenker Family Farms, Sarah Porter of Goodrich’s Maple Farm, Alejandro Jauregui of Fury Bees and Polination, and Mike Reynolds of Reynolds Farms shared success stories of their transition to agriculture.

On the final day of the conference, the Homegrown By Heroes Panel took center stage. The panel, which was moderated by Farm Credit’s Gary Matteson, featured five Homegrown By Heroes certified producers who have found success by integrating the label into their marketing strategies. Farmer veterans on the panel were Air Force veteran Sara Creech of Blue Yonder Organic Farm, and Army veterans Mark Bowen of Meadowdale Farm, Josh Eilers of Ranger Cattle, Davon Goodwin of OTL Farms, and Frank Ritz of Gather Heritage Farm.

Veterans from the Vietnam War through Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, with interests in all types of farming, attended the conference which was made possible through the support of Farm Credit, Kubota Tractor Corporation, Prudential Financial, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and Corteva Agriscience.

Stay tuned for updates as we announce details for next year’s conference.

 

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