5 Ways You Can Support Veteran Farmers Today (and Every Day)
On November 11th, we pay respect to the estimated 18 million people who have served in the US Armed Forces. Even with this year’s social distancing-protocols in place, parades, speeches and virtual events are planned all over the country.
Although veterans go into many fields after their military service, many have transitioned into agricultural work — an estimated 9 percent of US farmers are veterans. Some were farmers before their military service, others find that the steady schedule and physical stamina needed for farm work make it an easy switch. Military veterans — especially those focused on sustainable and regenerative methods — can provide a much needed bolster to our food system.
Whether you are looking for a way to honor veterans on November 11th, or any day of the year, here are five ways you can support this unique group of our farming population.
Support Veteran Farmer Organizations
While veteran’s aid programs have been helping former service members since colonial America, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, the first such organization to focus on farming, has only been around since 2007. Since the FVC started 13 years ago, more than 250 other groups have organized specifically to work with veteran farmers (out of the 40,000 groups helping veterans in the US). These organizations provide training, resources, mentorship and connections to would-be veteran farmers. And as the number of organizations grows, the number of veteran farmers grows.
Along with the work being somewhat similar to work service members may have done during active duty, as FVC’s founder Michael O’Gorman told Civil Eats, “farming can become their new mission. It’s heroic. ‘We needed you to defend our country, and now we need you to feed it.’” Along with FVC, which has chapters around the country, some of the other organizations working to aid veteran farmers include Veterans to Farmers, Heroes to Hives and Hope Farms. By making a donation to these organizations, either through funds, supplies or materials, you can support their work.
Shop From Local Veteran Farmers
Just as other small- and mid-size farmers have been impacted by COVID-19, veteran farmers have faced the effects of farmers’ markets closing, farm to school programs shutting down and declining restaurant orders. Support them by shopping directly from them; use Local Harvest’s map (by typing “veteran” into the search bar) or Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Homegrown Heroes map to find veteran farmers selling at farmers’ markets or offering community-supported agriculture programs near you. You can also ask the information desk at your local market for information on veteran farmers in the area. For those shopping online, Georgia-based Stag Vets, which operates as both an agricultural learning and crisis center, offers a virtual farmers’ market and meat CSA, along with Stag Vets swag, through their website. You can buy hot sauce, honey, herbal tea and more from Growing Veterans, which offers a mental health and community-focused farming approach.
Support Policies That Provide for Veteran Farmers
Through the farm bill, veterans have some federal support available to them, including loan and grant programs, as well as educational, mentorship and career opportunities. But it’s important to note that the veteran unemployment rate is currently at 5.9 percent, and veteran homelessness and suicide rates have increased from last year. With national hunger rates soaring, more than four million vets and their families are food insecure.
Joe Biden has proposed support to combat these issues. While his plan is not specific to farmers, Biden intends to expand and improve veteran benefits, including reducing the veteran unemployment rate, expanding job training programs and protecting undocumented service members. His overall approach for the agricultural sector (not specific to veterans), includes expanding a microloan program for new and beginning farmers, as well as supporting the development of regional food systems and supply chains, creating more stable markets for small- and medium-size farmers. It’s unclear how much of this agenda will be realized, but many of these initiatives would benefit the agriculture sector at large.
And although the 2020 election is (primarily) over, local and state elections happen more frequently. To prepare for your next ballot, find out where your elected officials stand on support for veterans, sustainable agriculture, and whether they’ve voted to support new and small farmers from Food Policy Action.
Help Change Local Policy For Veteran Farmers
While federal policy is a valuable tool in establishing budgeting and support for veteran farmers, this legislation is only reviewed every five years.
There are also policies and legislation at the state and local level that you can work to support. Some states also provide veterans farmer grants, educational development programs and other resources. Look to see which issues local veterans and farming organizations are supporting. If it’s not clear, reach out to your favorite local organizations — there are Farmer Veteran Coalition chapters all over the country, a good place to start — and ask how to best support their policy agenda. Or get involved with your local food policy council; these groups discuss local food system issues and push for local and state policy change.
Volunteer with Local Veteran Farmers
If you’ve ever talked with a farmer, you know the day’s work is never done. So it’s rare that a farmer will turn down the offer of help from a hardworking volunteer (and you just might get some homegrown produce out of it!). As New York’s Heroic Food puts it, on their website: “This is one of the simplest ways to help out our cause. We believe the best way for our initiatives to be successful is for the community to actively get involved.” Many veteran farm organizations have calls for volunteers on their websites; if this isn’t the case in your area, ask a farmer at your local market or CSA how you can help out.