The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Farmer Veteran Coalition

The Farmer Veteran Coalition

In the News

March 24, 2013

When veterans return from service, they are faced with many challenges. There are numerous barriers to joining the civilian workforce, and military training and experience doesn’t always transfer to other fields. The rates of veteran unemployment have been high and are only increasing, leaving many veterans in a real bind – until now.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) is an organization whose mission is to mobilize veterans to feed America, cultivating a new generation of farmers and food leaders through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. Michael O’Gorman founded the organization in 2008 when he realized that both of these communities had something to offer each other. While veterans were struggling to find work, America’s farmers were aging without enough young people going into the field of agriculture. The average American farmer is 57, and starting a farm is not easy. There are high startup costs and there is a lack of available land for purchase or rent, making it tough for new, young farmers to break into the business. Tia Christopher, FVC’s Chief of Staff, says bringing these two groups together was a match made at the right time.

“Even in these rough economic times, the agriculture field offers many viable career options. Job opportunities include everything from shipping and managing to vegetable farms and vineyards. Along with the economic opportunities, working with the land and animals has proven to help veterans heal from the trauma of war. I like to think that after living through some pretty traumatic experiences it's cathartic to watch things grow,” says Christopher.

Aside from the benefits of working in agriculture – FVC believes that food production offers purpose, opportunity, as well and physical and psychological benefits – Christopher says now is really the time for beginning farmers. Not only is there a high demand for organic and sustainable food, but there is also a need for producers of large commodity crops, and a bi-lingual management staff. Many veterans can fill these needs.

“It is said that two of the most challenging professions are the military and farming – and this is doubly so for women. It takes strength and character to do both along with a sense of service to our country – be it protecting it or literally feeding it,” says Christopher. “I also believe that after such prolonged military action involving multiple deployments for many service members, seeing a crop from planting to harvest can truly offer a sense of pride and also peace.” 

Mickey Clayton, Army Nation Guard veteran and owner of Dot Ranch in Scio, Oregon, agrees. "By coming home and returning to agriculture, I gave myself room to take my own experiences as a combat veteran, and find a constructive place for them in a community that understands that not all decisions are black and white. Words don’t adequately describe how healing it can be to work the land, shepherd the animals, and to know that even as a disabled veteran, I can still lend my talents and efforts towards the safety and stability of American life,” says Clayton. 

Though a large number of veterans establish their farms in rural areas, there are a growing number of veterans entering the urban farming community. Many are starting to help their communities by bringing fresh produce to the inner city and helping to create a safe place for kids to hang out. Right now, FVC is working with urban farms in Dallas, Oakland and NYC.

Funding from a lot of banks and groups, including the Bob Woodruff Foundation, has enabled FVS to establish the FVC Fellowship Fund, which specifically gives small grants along with mentorships to disabled, ill and injured veterans starting farming careers. To date, they have granted $200,000 to Farmer Veterans. FVC currently has a network of over 600 veterans in over 47 states. Growing their client base as well as their national scope is a priority for 2013.

“The future of FVC is very exciting. This month we launched our used farm equipment exchange and donation program (FEED), which will match unused farm equipment and implements with deserving Farmer Veterans in Iowa and California (our pilot states). We are also working on FVC chapters across the country. Lastly – two of our main focuses going forward are working with women veterans in agriculture and in financial literacy for beginning Farmer Veterans,” says Christopher.

She adds, “This week I am traveling to LA to interview another veteran with an urban farm that we are looking to assist. This honestly is one of my favorite parts of my job.”