It’s no secret rural America accounts for only 14 percent of our nation’s population. The fact that more than 44 percent of the men and women who serve our country also have roots in small towns and rural communities may surprise some. As they make the transition from military back to civilian life, many choose agriculture for their profession. However, returning home and beginning to farm remains a significant challenge.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) supports veterans through this process, helping them with everything from financing to marketing. Through training programs, incubator farms and a strong network of experienced farmer veterans, FVC cultivates a new generation of farmers and food leaders, developing viable employment and meaningful careers for those who have served our country. To aid in this effort, the Farmer Veteran Coalition partnered with Farm Credit to develop the Homegrown by Heroes program – a voluntary marketing label available to farmer veterans.
Developed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in January 2013, the Homegrown by Heroes label has been administered nationally by FVC since Veterans Day of the same year. The program has since expanded to include more than 1,100 members in all fifty states and Puerto Rico.
The Homegrown by Heroes label give consumers the opportunity to support their veterans while promoting a dialogue between the two. “People can walk up to my stand and know I’m a veteran. They thank me for my service, and I think some do buy because I’m a veteran,” said Calvin Riggleman, a retired Marine, West Virginia produce farmer and Farm Credit of the Virginias customer-owner who sells his products at farmers’ markets. Conversations like these allow veterans to educate consumers and foster meaningful relationships with their customers.
Farm Credit recognizes the importance of resources like Homegrown by Heroes for returning veterans. “Farm Credit has given us a tremendous amount of support,” said Michael O’Gorman, executive director and founder of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Not just funding -- they’ve also provided staff time and expertise at the national level, and local Farm Credit associations are also actively supporting our programs and our veterans.”
“Our military veterans served this country with honor and a special few are willing to take on the daunting task of starting a farming operation,” said Farm Credit Council’s Gary Matteson, who serves as president of the Farmer Veteran Coalition board of directors. “Farm Credit believes that supporting them as they get started is the right thing to do for them, and it also helps strengthen our rural communities.”