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Farmer Veteran Coalition

Membership: 4,500

Organization Focus: Helping military veterans succeed in farming

Years Since Founding: 8

Program Focus: Encouraging purchase of veteran-raised products

Approximately 45 percent of America’s military personnel come from our rural communities, yet coming back home and trying to get started in farming remains a significant challenge. The Farmer Veteran Coalition aims to help them through the process, with everything from funding to advice to helping them sell their products. In short, it offers a jump start to their farming careers, in some respects working to make up for the years they spent serving the country.

“For many people, farming is a life-long vocation,” says Michael O’Gorman, executive director and founder of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Our veterans have lost years of farming productivity, often their most physically active years. They’ve made a big sacrifice, so we’re here to give them a boost.”

Interest in the Farmer Veteran Coalition is growing rapidly: a little over a year ago, the organization had just over 2,000 members; today, it includes 4,500 members, 88 percent of whom are military veterans. Membership is also open to individuals who wish to support the organization’s efforts. The military draw down has contributed to the increase in veterans looking for their next career. The Farmer Veteran Coalition has members in all 50 states, coming from all branches of the military, and representing all military eras, from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There’s a growing interest among veterans in farming, in part because there have been a good number of success stories,” says Michael. “And farming fits with their personality. Many vets want to do something hands-on that’s both physically and mentally challenging. They’re also looking for work that has purpose, which farming and producing food certainly does.”

Many vets want to do something hands-on that’s both physically and mentally challenging. They’re also looking for work that has purpose, which farming and producing food certainly does.

A cornerstone project of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is “Homegrown By Heroes,” a labeling program that enables veterans to identify their products as veteran-grown, and lets consumers know they’re buying from a veteran. “People can walk up to my stand they know I’m a veteran. They thank me for my service, and I think some do buy because I’m a veteran,” says Calvin Riggleman, ex-Marine and West Virginia produce farmer who sells his products at farmers’ markets.

In 2014, Farm Credit provided $250,000 to support launching Homegrown By Heroes nationally, though its support for the Farmer Veteran Coalition goes much further. “Farm Credit has given us a tremendous amount of support,” Michael says. “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,” says 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 also helps strengthen our rural communities.”