Matt McCue is a new farmer. He is also a returned Iraq war veteran and former Peace Corps Volunteer. Matt got involved in farming in California after meeting Michael O’Gorman, founder and Executive Director of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. Now, he is starting Shooting Star CSA Farm in Solano County, having secured a lease on some beautiful and productive property. “What is your life going to be defined by?” he asks. “In the military, if you get into an altercation, your life is defined by tragedy. My life is defined by growing and harvesting things, and there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Matt is one of several young returning war veterans who are now involved in farming after contacting the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, a project of Community Partners. “There is a sense that our farms have something to offer, not just for the soldiers coming back but for the whole nation,” says Michael O’Gorman, a founder of the new Farmer-Veteran Coalition and the retired production manager for Del Cabo, an organic tomato-growing cooperative in Baja.
Sam contacted the Farmer-Veteran Coalition while still on active duty. He knew he wanted to farm but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. After some research, he decided he wanted to grow wine grapes. Within a week of his return home, he was placed in a job with Bacchus Vineyard Management. Now he’s driving tractors, seeing hands-on how a vineyard is managed. In the fall, he’s planning on attending classes in viticulture at Santa Rosa Community College. Sam is one of three veterans placed in jobs on farms in the North Bay in March.
The mission of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition is to mobilize our food and farming community to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, by the end of 2008 there will be approximately 2 million young veterans with service that started after September 2001. Upon their return, as many as 500,000 of these veterans may be unemployed and many others will be working in jobs that do not adequately provide for their families. Our target is to reach one-half of one percent of these returning veterans and to introduce them to the possibility of working in the farming and food industries. Right now, we’re getting the word out however we can. We want everyone to know that we are working to address multiple challenges. It seems so natural to assist returning veterans who want to work in agriculture. Especially when two farmers are retiring for every one that starts up.
“We want to get the word out to these young men and women that this is not your grandfather’s farm,” says O’Gorman. “This is a new time. You can get into farming with a lot less money doing regional production. You don’t need to inherit 640 acres.” But, he reminds us all that this dynamic revolution in the food system won’t happen if we don’t have new farmers, stepping up to the challenge.