“Agriculture is not often the first thing people think of for returning veterans. That’s why we are elevating the discussion about veterans and agriculture.” ~Secretary Vilsack
This week, Secretary Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Harden and I met with 35 military veterans who are now farmers and ranchers. Hosted by the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the Farm Credit Council, these men and women came to USDA to discuss the opportunities and resources available to veterans interested in agriculture. Many of them participate in the Homegrown by Heroes campaign which celebrates local products grown, raised and produced by farmer veterans across the country.
As the Department’s Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison and a veteran of the Marine Corps myself, I know there are many reasons military veterans turn to agriculture. For some, running a farm business gives them an opportunity to put their logistical training to work. For others, farming lets them continue serving their community. Many veterans talk about how working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life. And still others discuss how agriculture gives them purpose.
No one can explain the deep connection between veterans and agriculture better than veteran farmers themselves. Here are a few of their voices.
Michael O’Gorman is the founder and Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition which is dedicated to the success of veteran farmers. For him, the most important thing is to tell the stories of military veteran farmers.
Alvina Maynard serves in the US Air Force and owns River Hill Ranch in Richmond, Kentucky. For her, raising alpacas and being a farmer is part of her continued service to her community.
During Aaron’s four years as a Marine he was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is now the owner of White Stock and Produce, a diversified farm in Carlisle, Iowa. Farming gives Aaron structure and purpose.
Jeremy Ireland served 3 years as an intelligence analyst in the US Army Reserves. Now, he and his wife Emily grow produce, raise laying hens and make maple syrup on Ireland Hill Farms in Swanville, Maine. His farm has allowed him to smoothly transition into civilian life.
Justen Garritty serves in the US Army Reserves after two tours in Iraq. As the owner of Veterans Compost which converts food scraps into high quality organic compost in the DC area, Justen knows that agriculture can offer jobs to veterans.