National Labeling Initiative Distinguishes Veteran Farm Products

Nov 11, 2016  | 7 min  | Ep4212

On Friday, many paused to honor and thank all U.S. veterans and current members of the military, on Veterans Day. Farmers throughout history have taken up arms to defend their country, returning home to beat their swords into plowshares.

While opportunities for vets have been improving, there are still those who have difficulty finding and keeping a job. However, in rural America, several young farmers have joined forces to improve their chances of success after returning from the battlefield.

Josh Buettner has this week’s Cover Story. 

Roughly two and a half million men and women have served in the armed forces during the post 9/11 era.  And many veterans have willingly taken on multiple deployments - only to wage an uphill battle finding fulfilling work back home. 

Dan Hromas/Prairie Pride Poultry - Grand Island, Nebraska: “When you’re in the military, at least for me, I was outside a lot…heck of a lot more than inside.  So it was kind of the natural, easy transition.  And the same kind of dedication and motivation it takes in the military is what it takes to run a successful farm.”

Dan Hromas, a Marine, Army and National Guard veteran, has childhood ties to family poultry operations.  And his roots led him to start-up his own egg-laying flock.  In the Army, Hromas was part of the 2007 Iraq troop surge.  He came away with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Through Veterans Affairs, the solider identified therapeutic strategies, and connected with several groups that offer assistance to entrepreneurial veterans.

Dan Hromas/Prairie Pride Poultry - Grand Island, Nebraska: “I can’t think of any better way to continue to serve the local community and state than by providing them with a farm fresh, locally sourced food.”

Prairie Pride Poultry has been a successful venture for Hromas.  He has provided value-added eggs to the community…

Dan Hromas/Prairie Pride Poultry - Grand Island, Nebraska: “Good job, girls.”

…and diversified his Grand Island, Nebraska operation to add broilers and hogs.

One helping hand for Hromas was Davis, California-based Farmer Veteran Coalition, which awarded him a small grant to purchase equipment and feed.

Michael O’Gorman/Executive Director – Farmer Veteran Coalition: “This gentleman is driven.  He’s tenacious.”

Though not a military veteran himself, Farmer Veteran Coalition founder Michael O’Gorman brings over 40 years of agricultural experience to the table, spending the past two decades managing three of the nation’s largest organic vegetable operations.

Motivated by his daughter, who was traumatized at ground zero on 9/11, his son joining the military a week after the terrorist attacks, and the prospect of his own retirement amidst a national crisis-level shortage of next generation farmers, O’Gorman began to explore the parallels of military service and land stewardship. 

Michael O’Gorman/Executive Director – Farmer Veteran Coalition: “Our military, our all-volunteer military right now has two really interesting components.  One is that it’s a fraction of one percent who now serve in the military.  The other is it’s extremely rural in its makeup.  The very high disproportionate number come from small, rural communities and that is where our farmers come from.  And we’re finding that this is geographically and temperamentally a really good fit.”

With just 9 members at its inception, a trickle of interest turned into a flood of support for the FVC, which now claims over 8,000 members in all 50 states and U.S. territories.  And for the Coalition, partnering with other organizations has taken awareness even further.

Michael O’Gorman/Executive Director – Farmer Veteran Coalition: “It’s a tremendous benefit for the marketplace.”

Marketing is crucial to success.  And locally grown branding, in the Blue Grass State, turned out to be exactly what O’Gorman wanted to pursue.

Ben Shaffar/Director of Business Development – Kentucky Department of Agriculture: “One thing we noticed was that there wasn’t anything focused on consumers.  And like Kentucky Proud we thought is there an opportunity to help raise the profile at the point of sale, products that are grown and raised by our military veteran farmers…and thus the birth of Homegrown by Heroes took place in early 2013.”

Formulated to denote products on store shelves produced or processed by the state’s farm families, Kentucky Proud was adopted as the official state agricultural marketing brand by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2008. 

In 2012, the Commonwealth’s former Agricultural Commissioner, James Comer, tasked his department with development of a retail plan to assist unemployed veterans through farming.  Several Kentucky vets were also FVC members, and when Homegrown by Heroes kicked off, word reached O’Gorman, who contacted Comer.  The two soon charged forth together, taking Homegrown by Heroes nationwide.

With over 550 members in 49 states and Puerto Rico, farmer veterans are labeling farm products, which allows consumers to help secure the future of America’s food systems.

Ben Shaffar/Director of Business Development – Kentucky Department of Agriculture: “At its infancy, we thought maybe this has an opportunity to go beyond Kentucky and really be a brand that helps all of our farmer veterans across the nation.  And just within the two year plus timeframe we see that that is actually taking shape.”

Within Kentucky’s borders, an enterprising veteran - Alvina Maynard at River Hill Ranch, outside Richmond – has launched a Homegrown by Heroes endeavor offering several products from one source. 

Alvina Maynard/River Hill Ranch – Richmond, Kentucky: “This is more than just about the alpacas. This is more than just growing clothes.  It’s about creating a paradigm shift in how we are spending our dollars when it comes to our clothing, which, unless you live in a nudist colony is kind of an essential part of our everyday life in society.”

In the long run, Maynard aims to save her customers money.

Alvina Maynard/River Hill Ranch – Richmond, Kentucky: “As Americans, our fashion industry drives us to go back to the store and get a whole new wardrobe every season.  That is how they make money.  And so they want cheap materials that aren’t really going to last for very long because they want you to go back and buy more clothes.”

Graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2005, Maynard served in South America, where the Andes Mountains are the native habitat of her livestock - which were first imported to the U.S. in the mid-1980’s.

Proponents say alpaca fiber is stronger, more versatile and lasts longer than wool.  And once the suri breed, known for its luster and softness, no longer produce quality fiber, the animals are culled, fetching 8 to $14 per pound on ground meat and cuts.

Knowing when and how to get into promising markets is a difficult task, riddled with pitfalls.  But Maynard, and fellow veterans like Hromas, attribute the wherewithal needed to skills they acquired serving their country.

Alvina Maynard/River Hill Ranch – Richmond, Kentucky: “In the military, you’re adjusting to things at the very last second.  You can plan, and planning is important, but you plan for every single contingency possible because you never know what’s going to go wrong.  And so that’s exactly the same in farming.”

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.

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