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From the Field: More than a Celebration; Capitol Hill Event Highlights a Farmer Veteran Movement
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) meets with farmer veteran Calvin Riggleman

From the Field: More than a Celebration; Capitol Hill Event Highlights a Farmer Veteran Movement

Farmer veterans, members of Congress, media reporters and Farm Credit supporters joined forces in Washington, D.C., June 2-3 to attend a series of events. From formal meetings to an unforgettable reception, these collaborative efforts did more than celebrate the contributions of our farmer veterans; they raised awareness of programs, policies and potential. It was a powerful opportunity to amplify the efforts of the Farmer Veteran Coalition's Homegrown By Heroes labeling program to Members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the general public.

Before the Salute to Farmer Veterans event began, Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with Farm Credit representatives and farmer veterans to discuss committee priorities and challenges in the industry. Calling himself a “self-declared champion for farmers, ranchers and everyone in the agriculture industry”, Chairman Roberts humbly thanked veterans for their service. “This room -- the agricultural committee room -- it's your room. It belongs to you, and so does this entire Capitol," he said.

The meeting covered a vast range of topics – from national security concerns, crop insurance and the farm bill, to the Environmental Protection Agency and Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). Senator Roberts responded to questions about support for new beginning farmers and the Farmer Veteran Coalition program, stating “I can’t think of a better program. Farming is a different kind of vocation. It’s a special calling.”

Later in the evening, more than 40 farmer veterans and about 300 total guests mingled at the Salute to Farmer Veterans event. Tables were overflowing with products produced by farmer veterans as a way to highlight the Homegrown by Heroes labeling program. While the food was a hit, industry reporters were eager to interview significant attendees including House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) and farmer veterans, including Calvin Riggleman and Josh Eilers.

The following day a USDA meeting was hosted by Karis Gutter, Military Ag Liaison at USDA. In the Williamsburg Room were more than 20 Homegrown By Heroes participants, spouses, Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) founder and Executive Director Michael O'Gorman, and Farm Credit Council vice president and FVC Board Chairman, Gary Matteson, USDA senior officials and other Farm Credit representatives.

The session began with powerful and personal and stories told by four farmer veterans of how their farm operations' special healing powers gave hope and order to their lives after military service. Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, then spoke to the group to express thanks and shared her own experience of the restorative power of farm work. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, then addressed the group and took questions, noting the many ways that USDA programs are intended to serve their needs. The meeting also gave Farm Credit representatives the opportunity to describe how the locally-owned network of cooperatives provides services for veterans through locally developed programs for beginning farmers.

The effort made by many Homegrown By Heroes label users to travel to Washington and tell their stories was effective and humbling, and it also helped jump-start the conversation around a growing movement in a meaningful industry. Farm Credit is proud to have been able to coordinate and support these events and our farmer veterans.

You can help keep the conversation going – learn more about Farm Credit’s support of veterans and partnership with veteran programs, encourage veteran farmers you know to apply for Homegrown By Heroes, or comment below to tell us your story or thoughts on the Salute to Farmer Veterans event!

Check out our Facebook and Twitter page and follow the hashtag #FarmerVets for additional stories and updates.