It only took one article—“U.S. Rural Soldiers Account for a Disproportionately High Share of Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan,” by William O’Hare and Bill Bishop and published by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute—to spur Michael O’Gorman to action. Gorman was overseeing more than 1,500 acres of organic tomatoes, peas, basil and other fresh produce for Jacob’s Farm/Del Cabo when the article came out in November 2006.
Reading it, he felt something had to be done to help service members returning to their communities after tours abroad.
In May 2007, O’Gorman organized a gathering of California growers to discuss creating agriculture jobs for returning veterans. The idea of providing American military members not only with farm jobs but also with the quiet and peace that farming offers very much appealed to the growers in attendance. This included Mary Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman, who left a career in pro football to serve his country and who made the ultimate sacrifice doing so.
With The Famer Veteran Coalition, this came into being.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition
Over the years, the Farmer Veteran Coalition has grown from that small group of Central California farmers to become an independent 501c3 organization with over 30,000 members. More than 50 percent have service-connected disabilities.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition works hand in hand with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to promote and provide agricultural business opportunities for the men and women who served our country.
Today, the Farmer Veteran Coalition can assist a veteran at any point in his or her agricultural career. Its mission is to cultivate meaningful careers through the collaboration of the American farming and military communities and to help veterans strengthen those hard-hit rural communities by establishing sustainable food systems that provide military members with purpose, physical activity and psychological benefits.
In addition, the Farmer Veteran Coalition works to establish a sense of community between farmer veterans, a support system that can lead to both agricultural collaboration and friendship.
While membership in the Farmer Veteran Coalition is free and available to both veterans and non-veterans, only veteran members are eligible for the organization’s programs and services. Veterans must have served in the U.S. Armed Forces at any point in their lifetime—including currently—and must verify their service by submitting DD-214, a Certificate of Discharge, a Service Record, or (for those currently serving) a Letter from Command.
Programs include participation in the organization’s Homegrown by Heroes branding of veteran-produced agriculture products and the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. The latter provides grants to veterans just starting their agricultural careers and has awarded more than $3 million in grants to more than 900 veteran farmers since 2011.
In addition, veteran members receive discounts from such Farmer Veteran Coalition partners as Kubota, FarmTek, Johnny’s Select Seeds, Mann Lake Bee and Ag Supply, and Gempler’s.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition also:
- connects veteran farmers with agricultural training programs, internships and apprenticeships
- provides resources for finding land, financing a farm, creating a business plan, and developing marketing strategies
- offers a large online library of links to farming organizations, networks and other agriculture programs.
Associate members consist of businesses, corporations, partnerships, veterans with unverified service, and non-veteran members who wish to show their support for farmer veterans. Spouses and children of veteran members often become associate members to demonstrate their support for their loved one and for all military service members.
Other Farmer Veteran Coalition supporters include the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, Tractor Supply Co. and the USDA.