Farmer-Veteran Coalition founder Michael O'Gorman; Melissa Barnes
I've worked in the organic-farming industry for 40 years. I visited New York not long after 9/11 and came across the statue of a guy beating his sword into a plowshare, and a light bulb went off in my head. In 2007 I talked to some Northern California farmers about creating jobs for returning veterans. From the beginning, there's been something so positive about the concept. It transcends politics.
- Michael O'Gorman, as interviewed in Sierra Magazine
I'd like to start of the week with news of The Farmer-Veteran Coalition, a national organization that supports and trains returning veterans seeking a career in sustainable agriculture. Funded by the USDA and a number of other foundations, the FVC has already provided assistance to many veteran-farmers working across the country.
As Coalition founder Michael O'Gorman told Patricia Leigh Brown of The New York Times, the convergence of soldiers returning to civilian life and an aging farming population create a unique opportunity. “The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either," he told the Times, "There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”
This August the organization announced its first eight Bob Woodruff Farming Fellows along with its inaugural Wells Fargo Fellow. As the titles above suggest, the FVC has been able to not only encourage support within the organic farming community, but beyond, and it should also suggest to folks across rural america that this could be modeled across rural America-- regardless of the specific farming methods or philosophies.
As this program so powerfully demonstrates, these farmer-veterans not only find a vocation and a means of healing from their combat experiences, but they also help reinvigorate their communities. Folks can read the stories of these extraordinary farmer-veterans on the FVC news page; visit the Fellowship Fund to learn how to share this information with possible candidate or how to donate funds, equipment, or expertise.
Included below is the video of Matt McCue, who discusses how his time spent in rural Iraq opened up a path to a farm apprenticeship in California and a co-ownership of a local CSA:
Rather than thinking of Iraq as the place where my heart was broken and my mind was controlled I prefer to think of Iraq as the place where I discovered the key to my freedom. I prefer to remember the trucks full of watermelons and pomegranates that would pass through our checkpoints. I felt strangely human as I waved cars by with pomegranate seeds stuck to my Kevlar vest.“I first learned the value of sustainability and the resilience of agricultural communities while serving as an Infantryman in Iraq. In the middle of the chaos of a regime change and a damaged infrastructure the farmers kept growing and kept selling. Seeing this strength is what made me want to be a farmer. [continue reading here]
Much more information on can be found on the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, along with photos, videos and a blog page. Reprinted below is a short excerpt from the FVC mission statement:
The mission of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition is to mobilize our food and farming community to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities, and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all. The coalition seeks to simultaneously assist the farming community by developing a new generation of farmers and to help our returning veterans find viable careers and means to heal on America’s farms.
The Farmer-Veteran Coalition was founded by farmers and food industry leaders with long histories in overcoming the agricultural, managerial, financial, and marketing obstacles to be successful in their work. The goal of our work is to share our experiences with recent military veterans and to assist them in using their many relevant skills to create a new generation of innovative, ecological, and financially successful young farmers. Our program has the ability to help veterans reduce risk and become successful farmers by utilizing the many specific and unique resources available to help military veterans starting businesses, buying land, or overcoming disabilities.