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Opinion

Monroe: Veterans find new mission in agriculture

The Farmer Veteran Coalition is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization assisting veterans and active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who embark on careers in agriculture.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization assisting veterans and active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who embark on careers in agriculture.

Many veterans return home feeling lost, without purpose. They seek that “new mission” they grew accustomed to during their time in the military.

When the Farmer Veteran Coalition was founded in 2008 by Michael O’Gorman in the back of his pickup truck, no one was connecting veterans with the farming community. He thought he could help them have meaningful careers on our nation’s farms. Today there are more than 250 organizations supporting this military-to-agriculture movement.

Our mission — mobilizing veterans to feed America — is rooted in our belief that veterans possess the character needed to create sustainable food systems and strengthen rural communities.

This year, after a decade of leading the charge, O’Gorman handed over his pitchfork to newly appointed Executive Director Jeanette Lombardo. Raised by an Air Force veteran father, Lombardo grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, on a family dairy farm. She spent decades in agricultural banking, and now is eager to carry forward the work of FVC in collaboration with Farm Bureau.

“Farm Bureau is historically one of FVC’s strongest supporters,” Lombardo said. “We value this partnership that allows us to jointly help our veterans and their families transition into agriculture. We’re equally excited about the Farm Bureau Patriot Project and the future farmer veterans we will support.”

The American Farm Bureau piloted the program with several states as a national mentorship program that connects military veteran beginning farmers with experienced farmers and ranchers that are Farm Bureau members. The Patriot Program is based on research that successful mentorship occurs when a relationship is developed first.

FVC further assists members through three primary in-house programs.

The Fellowship Fund is a grant program that purchases farm equipment crucial to the launch of members’ operations. Now in its 10th year, we have funded over 600 farmer veterans with $3 million in equipment.

We nationally administer the Homegrown By Heroes certification, the official farmer veteran branding program of America.

And we host the Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference, this year virtually, Nov. 18-19. It’s the leading symposium for this movement, and both veterans and non-veterans are invited to join. Often geographically isolated, farmer veterans benefit from exchanging ideas, resources and building their own community.

At last year’s conference in Austin, 500 members of our community gathered strong. Charlie Kruse stood up to speak. A retired two-star general, farmer, long-time leader of Missouri Farm Bureau, and the vice president of our FVC board of directors, Kruse closed out the session.

“I got dragged into FVC,” he said, “by a couple individuals who believed someday FVC would become something really big.” Kruse looked around the ballroom at our wonderful group of attendees enthusiastically focused back on him. “We have hit that moment.”

Natalie Monroe is communications director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

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