2013 23.3 Farmer Veteran Coalition: Helping Veterans Reach New Grounds

When Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) founder, Michael O’Gorman, started farming in 1970 there were 2 million farmers feeding 200 million people. Today, there are 960,000 farmers feeding 310 million mouths. Because the number of farmers have shrunk and ages of farmers have gone up, O’Gorman saw the need for “new farmers to feed our people, protect our land, rebuild our economy, bring back our rural communities, keep us healthy, and make our nation secure.” He also saw the need to provide employment opportunities for veterans. Joblessness among post 9-11 veterans was 9.9 percent last year, compared with nation’s overall employment rate of 8.1 percent for 2012. O’Gorman started FVC in 2008 to address these important issues.

A New Generation of Farmers and Leaders

The mission of FVC is to mobilize veterans to feed America.FVC cultivates a new generation of farmers and food leaders, and develops viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. FVC believes veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all. Food production offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits for FVC members.

FVC’s efforts to introduce new veterans to both employment and self-employment in the US agricultural sector aims to strengthen the nation’s economy, secure long-term ability to feed itself, bolster it’s position in the global economy, improve the health of it’s resources, rebuild rural communities, and improve the health and diet of it’s citizenry.

Members of FVC range in agriculture involvement between full and part time and are either employed or self-employed in the field. Member involvement includes all aspects of raising food, fiber, and in some cases fuel and forest products. It includes the providing of materials, tools, services and research that make agricultural production possible and the handling, distribution, and marketing of the products afterwards.

Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund

FVC leverages their work through a network of partnerships, which allows them deliver a wide variety of services to a large number of veterans, assisting them in making a successful transition into an agricultural career. This includes providing educational, employment and training opportunities, as well as connecting veteran farmers with business and funding opportunities. Additionally, the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund created in 2011, is designed to assist farmers beginning careers in food and farming and assist current farmers with business expansion through financial and personal support.

The Fellowship Fund consists of two main branches — the Business Branch and the Education & Training Branch. The Business Branch provides a boost to farmer veterans through the purchase of equipment and assistance with certifications, building materials, and labor. The Education & Training Branch targets veterans interested in pursuing an agriculture focused education or training program aimed to enable future employment. Examples of education and training programs that FVC has worked with in the past include the Orange County Great Park, Center for Land Based Learning California Farm Academy, and the Rudolf Steiner College.

Grantees are awarded grants as well as in-kind supplies and equipment. In addition to monetary assistance, veterans are provided with one-on-one advice and business and financial mentorship to ensure vets are supported throughout their growth. The grantees are also connected to each other, forming an ever-growing community of farmer veterans that help and support one another.

Helping Veterans Throughout the Nation

FVC supports numerous veterans pursuing agricultural careers throughout the nation. Army veteran Mickey Clayton raises Navajo Churro Sheep, an American heritage breed, as well as Muscovy ducks, Dexter cattle, Black Copper Maran chickens, and Mottled Java chickens. Mickey joined the Army and served as an equipment repair specialist for seven years, attained the rank of Sergeant, and served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mickey was severely injured while serving in country, resulting in a permanent leg injury and medical discharge from the service. During her service in Iraq, Mickey fell in love with the Awassi sheep. She decided to pursue raising sheep as a full time enterprise and purchased Dot Ranch from a WWII Navy veteran. Dot Ranch is located on 40-acres in Scio, Oregon. Mickey is in the process of acquiring her USDA meat seller’s license so she can sell at local markets and restaurants. Her goal is to make her meat accessible to low-income ethnic communities.

As a Bob Woodruff Farming Fellow through the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, Mickey used her funding to purchase a specialized sheep squeeze handling system and other farm equipment. The sheep squeeze is a piece of adaptive farming equipment that allows Mickey to wrangle the sheep alone. The purchases made through the Fellowship enabled Mickey to increase the size of her flock, which has tripled her expected profit for 2013. Today, Mickey is a student at OSU in the Natural Resource Management program, the founder of a Doberman Pinscher rescue, the sole proprietor of Dot Ranch, and a single mother. Mickey embodies the spirit of veterans returning home to not only farm, but also give back to their communities.

Tyler Boggs, a veteran also farming in Oregon, was born and raised on his family’s farm, which had to be sold after he joined the Army in 1996. In 2010, ten years after his return from the Army, Tyler sold the company he started and bought a farm property just south of Portland, Oregon. Tyler describes his passion for farming as a way of continuing to be a soldier — “a soldier of peace, serving my country with the same passion, intensity and commitment.”

Tyler and his wife Elizabeth started Heart 2 Heart Farm to provide healthy food for their family. After steering away from foods containing harmful chemicals, pesticides, and hormones, Tyler and his family noticed their attitudes and energy levels improving. This led to extended family members sourcing food from Tyler, which snowballed into family friends, friends of those friends, and so on. Today, Tyler’s farm produces rabbits, chicks, sheep, dairy goat kids, hogs, dairy cattle, beef cattle, crayfish, produce, berries, and fruits.

Tyler and his wife also started an aquaponics system, where they currently raise tilapia. They hope to launch the full aquaponics system in autumn of 2013. All of the animals are sold live or as shares which Tyler slaughters on-site. Heart 2 Heart Farm sells directly from the farm and this summer will join the farmers’ market. Tyler and Elizabeth have also committed a large part of the farm to youth and adult education, and animal therapy.

Tyler was recently awarded a Sustainable Agriculture Grant through the Newman’s Own Foundation and the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. This grant will allow Tyler to purchase a hay barn, which will be a place to store hay despite his injuries, be a space to teach classes on animal husbandry. Tyler is driven and well respected in his community for his integrity and sustainable farming practices. What started as a mission to ensure the health of his family has turned into a thriving business, demonstrating how one man’s dedication to his country has allowed him to continue to serve it despite his injuries.

Frank Golbeck, much like Mickey and Tyler, is also finding passion through farming. His current focus is producing high quality mead and honey wine in San Diego. After serving as an Officer in the Navy for five years, Frank left the military for a change of career. He wanted to, as he says, “…do something that made a small part of the earth more bountiful…do something that contributed to the happiness of others.” Frank realized he ”would be at my happiest farming, and sharing the goodness of good work on good land with the people I was lucky enough to encounter.”

In 2010, Frank and two business partners, one of whom is also a veteran, started Golden Coast Mead in San Diego, California. In its first six months, the company sold its first two batches of mead to local restaurants and liquor stores. Thus far, the company’s profits and the demand for Frank’s mead have steadily increased. Frank and his partners source all of their honey from California farmers and plan in the future to source all of their honey from San Diego based farmers.

In the winter of 2011, Frank became the newest Bon Appétit Good Food Fellow. With his Fellowship, FVC will help him start twenty-three beehives on family property, allowing Frank and his partners to create estate mead. Incorporating beehives into the business will also allow for a diversification of their product line and markets. Frank’s family has farmed for many years and his grandfather taught him to make mead as a young adult. As a Bon Appétit Good Food Fellow, Frank is carrying on his family’s tradition and serving as an example for other veterans who strive to be small business owners.

Mickey, Tyler, and Frank are among the many farmer veterans FVC serves. To learn more about how to get involved with FVC or FVC in general, please visit www.farmvetco.org.

Tags: Farmer Veteran Coalition, Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, Grants, Veteran, Veterans