Harvesting Hope: Farmer Veteran Coalition cultivates opportunities for veterans in agriculture
The Farmer Veteran Coalition in Waco supports military veterans in transitioning to civilian life through agricultural careers.
Veterans can face many issues after returning to civilian life, and one big one is finding work. That's why the Farmer Veteran Coalition, headquartered in Waco, has dedicated itself to helping veterans and those currently serving in the military get started in the field of agriculture.
ABBIE EARP: “We assist military veterans and those currently serving, kind of transition into civilian life. So, we help them get into agriculture if they are interested in that, or find careers in agriculture.”
Abbie Earp, program coordinator for the coalition, says working in agriculture can be beneficial for veterans and their mental health.
ABBIE EARP: “A lot of veterans find it really healing to work with the livestock and be out in the field, and have that sense of community with each other.”
Created in 2008, the FVC is a non-profit organization that has chapters all across the United States. Veterans who are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture can reach out to their local chapter, and will be walked through the entire process of starting up a farm, including necessary paperwork, finding land and equipment, and getting connected with other veterans.
Ken Sury, communications specialist for the coalition, tells me the idea for the FVC was spurred by the fact that veterans disproportionately come from rural areas.
KEN SURY: “It came out of a study in 2006 from the University of New Hampshire, their Carsey Institute. A couple people looked at that issue and they discovered that a lot of the people in the military service came from rural areas. Almost a disproportionate number. It was kind of a heavy burden they were taking. Then they were coming back and maybe they were going to be taking over the family farm or just looking for some type of thing to get into with agriculture.”
The FVC supports veterans through the entire process of starting a career in agriculture, and that doesn’t just include traditional farms. Through the Veteran Fellowship Fund, which helps veterans get their start in the industry, farmers get to decide what they want to grow.
Whether it's aquaponics, urban farming, beekeeping, or maintaining a thousand acre ranch, the coalition will support any operation.
ABBIE EARP: “If you produce a product, if you grow a product, if you raise some type of animal, insect, whatever, you can do it.”
They’ve even created a national label for products that veterans produce, it's called Homegrown by Heroes. You may spot the sticker at your local farmers market.
ABBIE EARP: “It’s a national label that veterans can apply for to put on their products to show that it was produced by a veteran.”
So how does the FVC pay for programs like the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund and make initiatives like Homegrown by Heroes happen? Abbie says it's mostly through grants and donations.
ABBIE EARP: “So we have a lot of grants that we do, and then we have some donations. For the fellowship, it’s a lot of funders. We are very, very thankful for our funders. That is what kinda keeps that program going. Some of them include Tractor Supply, ADM, Wounded Warrior, Kabota.
But there’s more to the organization than supporting veterans financially, they also connect them with other veterans, hoping to create a sense of community amongst those in the program.
ABBIE EARP: “We see a lot of veterans also kind of helping each other. So, a lot of people in the chapter might share land with each other or they might have a piece of equipment that they let everyone kind of share around town and stuff like that. They really do help each other out.”
KEN SURY: “Yeah, it really is one big community. Plus if you’ve had that shared experience from being in the service and how that’s kind of a team aspect a lot of times as well, that does carry over to the farming world.
There are many ways to get involved with the FVC, and you don’t have to be a veteran. The coalition is committed to serving those in our local community, and encourages individuals to support veterans in agriculture this Veteran’s Day.
ABBIE EARP: “If you’re not a veteran, you can be an associate member and you’ll still get updates from us. We would love to get connected, especially with those in our community.”
KEN SURY: “Yeah, cause I know a lot of people like to still support the veterans and this is just another avenue for doing that. We’re just really proud of their service, and now we want to be of service to them as well.”
For 103.3 Waco Public Radio I’m Autumn Jones.