By Natalie Monroe, communications director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition
Many veterans return home feeling lost, without purpose.
They seek that “new mission” they grew accustomed to during their time in the military.
When the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) was founded in 2008 by Michael O’Gorman in the back of his pick-up truck, no one was connecting veterans with the farming community. He thought he could help them have meaningful careers on our nation’s farms. Today there are more than 250 organizations supporting this military-to-agriculture movement.
A national non-profit, FVC helps veterans pursue careers in agriculture. For these men and women, farming has become their new mission. The FVC mission — mobilizing veterans to feed America — is rooted in our belief that veterans possess the character needed to create sustainable food systems and strengthen rural communities. We recognize that agriculture additionally offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits. For many, this makes the difference in their civilian re-integration.
“People who join the military feel called to be part of something bigger than themselves. Farmers are the same way,” said Rachael Taylor-Tuller of Lost Peacock Creamery in Washington. “When you’re in the military, you’re keeping your community safe. When you’re in farming, you’re keeping your community fed. I consider it an honor to nourish my neighbors.”
This year, after a decade of leading the charge, O’Gorman handed over his pitchfork to newly appointed executive director Jeanette Lombardo. Raised by an Air Force veteran father, Lombardo grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, on a family dairy farm. She spent decades in agricultural banking, and now is eager to carry forward the work of FVC in collaboration with Farm Bureau.
“Farm Bureau is historically one of FVC’s strongest supporters,” Lombardo said. “We value this partnership that allows us to jointly help our veterans and their families transition into agriculture. We’re equally excited about the Farm Bureau Patriot Project and the future farmer veterans we will support.”
The American Farm Bureau piloted the program with several states as a national mentorship program that connects military veteran beginning farmer with experienced farmers and ranchers that are Farm Bureau members. The Patriot Program is based on research that successful mentorship occurs when a relationship is developed first.
FVC further assists members through three primary in-house programs.
The Fellowship Fund is a grant program that purchases farm equipment crucial to the launch of members’ operations. Now in its tenth year, we have funded over 600 farmer veterans with $3 million in equipment.
FVC also nationally administers the Homegrown By Heroes certification, the official farmer veteran branding program of America and hosts theFarmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference, this year virtually, Nov. 18 and 19. It’s the leading symposium for this movement, and both veterans and non-veterans are invited to join. Often geographically isolated, farmer veterans benefit from exchanging ideas, resources and building their own community.
At last year’s conference in Austin, 500 members of our community gathered strong. Charlie Kruse stood up to speak. A retired two-star general, farmer, long-time leader of Missouri Farm Bureau, and the vice president of the FVC board of directors, Charlie closed out the session. “I got dragged into FVC,” he said, “by a couple individuals who believed someday FVC would become something really big.”
Charlie looked around the ballroom at the wonderful group of attendees enthusiastically focused back on him. “We have hit that moment.”
The Farmer Veteran Coalition is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization assisting veterans and active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who embark on careers in agriculture. FVC simultaneously cultivates the next generation of farmers and food leaders. Learn more at www.farmvetco.org.