The Farmer's Exchange Online Home
Friday, December 6, 2019
Michiana's Popular Farm Paper Since 1926
Click here to start your trial subscription!

Indiana Has Farmer-Veteran Group


by Kim MacMillan

Published: Friday, November 8, 2019

As Veterans Day approaches, it's time to shine a light on the Farmer Veteran Coalition, the nation's largest non-profit organization assisting veterans, and active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, with careers in agriculture. The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) offers membership, with accompanying benefits, at no charge to members of the military.

With over 17,000 members nationwide, the FVC has many state chapters, including groups in Indiana and Michigan.

"We're helping America's bravest men and women serve our country a second time, by feeding it," said Kevin Coral, development coordinator of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

A 501c3 organization, FVC was founded in the spring of 2007 by a group of farmers, including now FVC Director Michael O'Gorman, and military families from the Central Coast of California; the organization was formed to help members of the Armed Forces transition into new careers in the ag sector. Attending that first meeting were three women whose sons had died while on active duty, one of them being Mary Tillman, mother of professional football player Pat Tillman, who left the NFLto serve in the Army and died in Afghanistan in 2004.

By 2011, the FVC made an impact on national agriculture policy for the first time by partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a paper proposing micro-loans for veterans new to farming. In 2013, FVC signed agreements with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Farm Credit Council and the National Farmers Union. Since then the FVC has also formed a key partnership with the National AgrAbility Project, an initiative created to "enhance the quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities."

The FVC has gone on to advise members of Congress on farm bill policy issues concerning veterans, and according to their web site, has "successfully pushed for the new office of Military Agricultural Liaison, the recognition of veteran farmers, the expansion of the micro-loans, and numerous efforts to give veterans preferential access to conservation programs, all things that were written into the Agricultural Act of 2014."

In November 2014, the FVC held the first Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference in Des Moines, Iowa in partnership with the Agricultural Law Center of Drake University. This year, that conference will be Nov. 17-20 in Austin, Texas. During this year's conference, the national organization will be implementing a chapter handbook and bylaws to add more structure to the state-level chapters.

Back in January 2013 the FVC worked with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, under Commissioner James Comer, in launching the "Homegrown by Heroes" labeling campaign. The program was designed to give the state's farmer-veterans recognition for their military service in the marketplace by way of logos on packaging and signage on farm trucks, buildings and storefronts. The Homegrown by Heroes project has since spread to other states including Indiana. Homegrown by Heroes program information is available on the national FVC web site at https://farmvetco.org/hbh/.

Other benefits of membership, according to Coral, are The Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, a small grant program (awarding grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000) that provides direct assistance to veterans who are in their beginning years of farming or ranching, and the Membership Discount Program, where FVC supporting businesses offer discounts to members. Participating member businesses offering discounts include: Kubota Tractor Co.; FarmTek; Growers Supply; Johnny's Selected Seeds; Dabant & Sons Beekeeping Supplies; CCOF; Oregon Tilth and Hiland Naturals Livestock Feeds.

The FVC National Office is in Davis, Calif.The office now has a staff of 12, with an additional six FVC staff members located around the country to assist with regional operations. Eleven of the 16 total staff members are veterans. The national office offers an Outreach Team which is available for phone and e-mailed guidance and support. They can be reached from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) Monday through Friday at 530/756-1395 or support@farmvetco.org. They offer help and advice on things such as finding a mentor, training classes, internships and resources available to farmer veterans, as well as help with business plans.

Membership in the FVC has been steadily increasing. In a 12-month period ending on March 31, 2015, over 2,000 new members joined the FVC. According to FVC stats for their members in that period, 72 percent had post 9-11 service, 20 percent were ethnic minorities, 16 percent were women and 59 percent had service-connected disabilities. Membership numbers for the Indiana chapter, which was founded in 2017, are already around 400 according to Indiana FVC President Sara Creech of New Salem, Ind. Formed in 2015, the Michigan FVC chapter currently has over 600 members.

There are two classes of FVC membership, veteran members (for veterans and active military) and associate members (non-military persons or businesses who would like to support FVC's mission). When someone joins the FVC, the national office puts them in touch with their respective state chapter (usually through the chapter president), if there is one. The chapter leader would then add the new member to their contact list and provide them with a list of resources and events happening in their home area. There are currently nine state chapters listed on their national web site: Indiana; Kansas; Michigan; New York; Tennessee; Vermont; Virginia; Washington and West Virginia.

Creech explained the current makeup of the Indiana chapter, "Currently this group is in the Indianapolis area, but we are hoping to expand that to other regions around the state, possibly with an online option. Most members participate only through newsletters and our email list. While we have different folks come to each activity, there is generally a core group of around 20-30. Our members are spread out over the whole state, so it limits us on a lot of our outreach. We hope to improve that outreach once we get some funding to allow regional events. The goal is to cultivate local leaders in each region, so veterans outside of Indianapolis, and the donut counties, are reached more effectively."

The Indiana chapter currently piggybacks on a number of Purdue Extension Service activities and also works with Indiana AgrAbility, as well as the Hendricks County Soil and Water Conservation District for their programs. Over the past two years, the Indiana FVC group has participated in a number of workshops including beekeeping, building soil nutrient content, woodland management, food preservation and food safety, and mushroom cultivation, as well as several farm tours.

Creech said the group plans to start a new learning group that will meet throughout the winter months to share ideas and study new topics of interest. For those that can't make it in person, they hope to offer on-line participation.

Though new to the FVC, Indiana farmers are being recognized nationally. To date, two Indiana veteran-farmers have won Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund grants, Creech a $5,000 grant for constructing a cold-storage unit on her Blue Yonder Organic Farm and Matthew Harvey a $1,000 grant to build a small greenhouse on his Harvey Organic Farm in Terre Haute, Ind.

Applications for the Indiana Farm Incubator Program, which will be held at the Indiana Veteran Farm in Danville, are now being accepted. Creech explained more about this program.

"The Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana has been given the use of a small farm in Hendricks County in memory of Harold and Esther Porter (a veteran/teacher and farmer). We would like to use this farm to assist a veteran to start an agriculture business/homestead development. We understand that there are multiple barriers to becoming involved in farming (land, equipment, training); this program is designed to assist beginning farmers through a multi-partner/community approach. The goal is to minimize the risk associated with getting started, while encouraging new farmer development."

Veterans within Indiana who are interested in starting a farm business are eligible to apply. Preference will be given to a veteran who already has some farming experience and is interested in starting a farm business. That said, if a veteran demonstrates strong motivation to begin farming and is willing to work in conjunction with a mentor, as well as the SBDC/SBA (Small Business Assn.), this may be waived. There may also be an option to work part-time on a mentor farm to gain experience while living at the Porter Farm.

Applications will be accepted through 5 p.m. Indiana Time on Nov. 30 with the goal of a move-in date on the Porter Farm of Jan. 1. For more information and an application go to the Indiana Farmer Veteran Coalition Facebook page or email infarmerveterans@gmail.com or call Creech directly at 765/336-1154.

The Michigan FVC Chapter recently launched a new "Operation Farm Dog" project in conjunction with Red Hive Golden Retrievers, New Jerusalem, Mich. The new program gifts puppies to deserving veterans and their families. The first puppy, Red Hive Freedoms Belle, was awarded in late October to U.S. Army Veteran Greg Babcock, who served for 34 years. Applications are being taken for the more puppies to be given to Michigan veterans in 2020. For more news about the Michigan Chapter of FVC go to their Facebook page.

Return to Top of Page