By Cyndie Sirekis, Director of Internal Communications, American Farm Bureau Federation
The Farmer Veteran Coalition recently announced the national launch of the Homegrown By Heroes initiative. The timing of the roll-out close to Memorial Day is terrific, as much of America is thinking about and honoring those who have served our nation in the armed forces.
Homegrown By Heroes is a labeling program that transcends Memorial Day. It allows farmers, ranchers, and fishermen in all 50 states and U.S. territories who have served or are serving in any branch of the U.S. military to use the label on their food and farm products. Consumers will soon see the label at the point-of-purchase and on signage in businesses, enabling them to select products that support farmer veterans.
Mark and Denise Beyers are the first certified Homegrown By Heroes farmers outside of Kentucky, where the program was first started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The high school sweethearts entered the Marine Corps in 1998 and 1999, respectively. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Mark’s team hit an improvised explosive device, resulting in combat injuries that led to the loss of his right arm and right leg. Upon returning from service overseas, Mark and Denise built a thriving maple syrup business on their 15-acre property in upstate New York. The couple will use the Homegrown By Heroes label to help sell the maple syrup they produce on their farm, as well as eggs and vegetables they will market this summer.
“Farming and military service are more closely linked than one might think. Thousands of our service men and women leave the rural communities and farms they call home in order to serve our country in the military,” explains Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). “Upon completion of their service, they often return home to resume work on the family farm,” says O’Gorman.
FVC also works with hundreds of veterans with no agriculture background who, upon returning from service, see opportunity in farming and ranching and decide to embark on a new career path in agriculture. FVC works with veterans who have served their country twice—once by defending it and now by feeding it. Only 16 percent of America’s population lives in rural areas, yet 40 percent of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military come from those same rural communities.
By supporting the label, consumers can help veterans who are serving our country in a new way–by producing the food and fiber that feeds and clothes us all. Thousands of young veterans are finding a new calling in a farming community with an average age of 58 years, according to the latest Census of Agriculture released by the Agriculture Department. O’Gorman’s goal is to have up to 500 veterans using the label by the end of the year.
To qualify for the Homegrown By Heroes label, one must have served honorably or still be serving in any branch of the U.S. armed forces, and be at least 50 percent owner and/or operator of the farm business. Veterans of all eras are encouraged to apply. FVC staff can assist applicants in developing food safety plans and, if needed, business plans.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and a wide array of other farm organizations, including Farm Credit, also support the label.