Wednesday, May 28th, 2014
Some soldiers and sailors grew up on a farm, but joined the military to see the world. Other military men and women never thought about a career in agriculture before retiring from service.
Either way, veterans who farm should be able to tell customers that the food and fiber they are buying came from a service member. The Farmer Veteran Coalition last week launched the Homegrown By Heroes initiative, a labeling program that will allow farmers, ranchers and fishermen from all 50 states and U.S. territories who have served in the military to use a special logo on their agricultural products.
“Thousands of our service men and women leave the rural communities and farms they call home in order to serve our country in the military. Upon completion of their service, they often return home to resume work on the family farm,” said Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Conversely, we work with hundreds of veterans with no agriculture background who, upon returning from service, see opportunity in farming and ranching and decide to embark on a new career path in agriculture.
“By supporting this label, we can help the veterans who are serving our country in a new way – by producing the food and fiber that feeds and clothes us all. At the same time, we’re helping thousands of young veterans find a new calling in a farming community whose average age is 58 years. “
About one-quarter of the veterans who belong to the organization grew up on farms, about one-quarter never farmed and about half lived in agricultural area, but never farmed themselves.
“We hear all the time, ‘I went to the military to get away from farming. And now, the first thing I want to do when I come out is go back to farming,’” O’Gorman said.
The coalition helps veterans get started farming – either with adaptive equipment if they were injured in service or with microloans to help them get their operations off the ground. Giving them a way to advertise their service to customers seemed like a natural extension of that work.
O’Gorman sees a day when the Homegrown By Heroes label will grow like the organic label – giving customers a guarantee that they’ll look for whenever they buy.
The label actually was started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which launched statewide program in 2013 and has signed up more than 60 Kentucky farmer-veterans.
Only 16 percent of America’s population lives in rural areas, yet 40 percent of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military come from those same rural communities.
Mark and Denise Beyers are the first certified Homegrown By Heroes producers outside of Kentucky. The high school sweethearts entered the Marine Corps in 1998 and 1999, respectively. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Mark’s team hit an improvised explosive device (IED), resulting in combat injuries that led to the loss of his right arm and right leg.
Upon returning from service overseas, Mark and Denise built a thriving maple syrup business on their 15-acre property in upstate New York. The couple will use the Homegrown By Heroes label to help sell the maple syrup they produce on their farm as well as eggs and vegetables they will market in the summer.
To qualify for the Homegrown By Heroes label, a person must have served honorably or still be serving in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and be at least 50 percent owner and/or operator of the farm business. Coalition staff assists applicants in developing food safety plans and, if needed, business plans.
Homegrown By Heroes applications, which can be completed at the label’s website.
Farm Credit, the nation’s largest network of farmer-owned agricultural lenders, supported the national launch of the Homegrown By Heroes label with a donation of $250,000. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the National Farmers Union (NFU), and a wide array of other farm organizations also support the Homegrown By Heroes label.