Although it is a fact, some would find it hard to believe that the men and women who work tirelessly every day to protect our freedom on foreign soil can’t find the means to make a living when they return home.
Since 9/11, over 2.8 million Americans have served in uniform. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping 200,000, or about 1 in 11, are currently unemployed. The Farmer Veteran Coalition is hoping to change that trend, by introducing our country’s heroes to agriculture.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition works with veterans in the food and farming community in all 50 states to provide farming education and veteran assistance to those in need. Current farmer veterans produce a wide range of food and fiber products.
“Basically we have two simultaneous missions,” said Michael O’Gorman, Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Executive Director. “One mission is to help the young men and women that are coming out of military service and the other mission is to help involve more farmers in an industry that is in need of younger people now more than ever.”
Many factors have contributed to the challenges of current veterans being unable to find work on the home front. Since 2001, America has fought in the longest and third longest wars in U.S. history, Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively.
“Two very long wars have been fought by the least amount of people,” O’Gorman said. “We’re talking about young men and women that have gone back to the battle front numerous times and there is a real disconnect from our country about who these people are, what they’ve been through and what they may be bringing home with them. We are hoping to open up opportunities for farms to hire America’s best and bring their skills, hard work and dedication to the countryside.”
More than just love of country can connect a farmer to a veteran. Both occupations bring with them ethics to work hard and do things right, the fearlessness to sweat and the grit to never give up. O’Gorman says one of the misconceptions is that farming is a way for veterans to heal, as if it were an easy, no-stress line of work.
“The real healing for our vets when it comes to farming is that it’s difficult, challenging and gives a true sense of purpose,” O’Gorman said. “These men and women went into the military with the highest calling and sense of purpose that they could find and after their time in fatigues is through, agriculture fills that void for them to do something for the greater good and our entire country.”
The Farmer Veteran Coalition works alongside the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit Services and The National Farmers Union to help develop relationships between farmers looking to hire and veterans looking to work.
One of the farmers that has found great farmhands through the Farmer Veteran Coalition is Columbiana County farmer Lee Lichtenwalner. His Leetonia, Ohio farm, called Dandelion Lane Farm, is primarily for hay production and pasture chickens and ducks, but is currently seeing a bit of an expansion with two new high tunnels to begin to grow fresh produce.
Lichtenwalner, a retired Air Force veteran himself, was excited to hear about FarmVetCo and the opportunities that were being given to returning military personnel. He knew that when he started his farm two years ago, after leaving a decade-long stint with the IRS, this would be a resource he would take part in.
“The thing I love about bringing veterans to the farm is that they don’t mind being thrown right into the thick of things, that’s what they’re used to,” Lichtenwalner said. “They don’t sit there and ask a lot of questions; except ‘How do I get started.’ Then, once you get them started they are in with both feet at the same time. I’ve got a Marine working for me doing things on the farm that I can’t do myself and he shows up and works until I tell him to stop. I wish I could have 10 guys just like him”
Many of Lichtenwalner’s neighbors have asked about his experience with those he hires through FarmVetCo and he is quick to point out that there is a tremendous supply of great workers, called military veterans. He said farmers can tap into that labor supply very quickly and painlessly and get people who, with a minimum amount of training, do just about anything that needs to be done on the farm.
For Lichtenwalner, hiring a veteran to help out on the farm is a two way street, where he gets the help that he needs in order to keep the operation moving forward and the veteran gets the experience. The veterans also have the chance to move forward in their own direction if they choose to start a farm of their own. That is something that has already happened twice.
“I was connected with two veterans recently who wanted to start farming but didn’t know where to begin,” Lichtenwalner said. “One has started her own farm on a modest 1.5-acre piece of ground and the other is in the process of building a full-fledged veteran training farm to take this program’s ideals to the next level, which is kind of cool.”
In addition, the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) recently announced the national launch of the Homegrown By Heroes initiative. This product labeling program will allow farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and the like from all 50 states and U.S. territories who have served or are still serving in any branch of the U.S. military the ability to use the logo on their agricultural products. Consumers and businesses purchasing agricultural products will begin to see this logo at the point-of-purchase and on business signage, enabling them to select products that support farmer veterans.
Americans constantly struggle with ways of saying “Thank You” enough to these brave soldiers. Hiring them and giving them a fresh start with a meaningful, worthwhile job on the farm once they return home from some of the most dangerous places on the planet may be one of the most heartfelt ways to show gratitude.
To find out more about Farmer Veteran Coalition, log on to www.FarmVetCo.org or call their offices at (530) 756-1395. Share with them the opportunities you may have and they would be happy to find the right veteran for your farm.