Veteran Farmers

June 15th, 2012 | melody | Comments Off on Veteran Farmers

This past February Albert’s Organics hosted 22 young military veterans to the Eco-farm Conference in Asilomar. This conference brings food system stakeholders together for education, networking and celebration, featuring workshops and prominent speakers on the latest advances in agricultural techniques, marketing strategies, research and other important food system issues. The Conference is the largest sustainable agriculture gathering in the western United States.

What was unique about these veterans attending is that they were all part of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) – men and women who have served their country bravely overseas and are now becoming farmers and produce industry workers. Albert’s Organics first met veterans from FVC when a small group visited our LA warehouse in February, 2011. Their network of veterans has grown into hundreds all across the country and many of them are well on their way to becoming our next generation of organic farmers.

Re-entry into civilian life is not easy. The number of soldiers and veterans committing suicide now exceeds the number of deaths due to combat.” That’s a staggering statistic when you consider that we are currently involved in two wars and we are losing more soldiers to suicide than we are to combat. Soldiers recognize this issue and are beginning to take the matter into their own hands, like forming the Farm Veteran Coalition (FVC). According to the FVC, “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 to build our green economy, rebuild our rural communities and secure a safe and healthy food supply.” They are taking PTSD veterans and teaching them how to farm organically. A veteran that once came home and felt like they had nothing left to live for are now able to serve their country once again, on a more personal and useful level.”

FVC began in May, 2007 when a small group of organic farmers met at Swanton Berry Farm, North of Santa Cruz, to talk about creating jobs for veterans. Larry Jacobs and Sandy Belin of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo attended, as did Mark Lipson of Molino Creek, Jeff and Lori Fiorovich of Crystal Bay Farm, Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm and Michael O’Gorman, Del Cabo’s Production Manager in North Baja. Also attending were three women, each of whom lost their sons in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Michael O’Gorman was so moved by the experience of that meeting that a year later he left his job in Mexico and began driving up and down California looking for veterans that he could help train as farmers. I first met Michael in 1990 when he was Farm Manager for TKO Farms, and am not only proud of what Michael has done, but also very excited to see someone with his level of experience and expertise in organic farming devote their time to training new farmers – especially our veterans.

One of FVC’s favorite projects is the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. The fund gives small grants, mostly around $5000 and mostly to combat wounded veterans. It does so quietly, helping some who have lost limbs or had serious head injuries find peaceful and dignified work raising livestock, growing vegetables and even producing maple syrup. Other veterans are provided funds for attend training programs, such as Archi’s Acres, California Farm Academy or the Rudolf Steiner College.

Most of FVC’s work is mentoring – farmers helping to share their knowledge and their love of farming with the new veteran farmers. This is nicely depicted in this video produced by Clif Bar – an FVC supporter.

To learn more about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and how you can help, please visit their website, or check them out on Facebook.

Melody Meyer
Vice President of Global Initiatives