Through their nonprofit Wild Bearies, Elena Terry and Zoe Fess are advancing intergenerational seed-saving and knowledge-keeping. A recent spotlight at the Smithsonian is helping them make strides.
November 11, 2011
We are now just shy of a century from the end of the First World War. When the peace accords were drawn up, it was thought that this would be the final war that mankind would face, so terrible were its effects and devastation wrought. The end of hostilities on November 11, 1918 became a national holiday—Armistice Day, which over the decades was re-designated Veterans Day. The fact that it was renamed is telling of subsequent world history. Since that time, we have had more wars, police actions, and conflict zones. America’s veterans have gone into harms way time and again throughout these years and it is only right that we honor them by remembering them on this day.
We often forget about those on the home front who support the troops. In World War Two, we had massive rationing as the population scaled down its own luxury in order to feed and supply the war effort. We haven’t seen rationing since then and it becomes easy to take things like flour, grain, sugar, and meat for granted. Farmers feed our nation in time of peace and war and yet we seem to minimize their role in society. A large number of farmers are veterans themselves, working a double duty in keeping America safe and prosperous.
This Veterans Day, the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) wants to honor our veterans, not only for their service in uniform, but also for how they continue to serve their nation. Veterans continue to have a major impact after their service, as leaders in the workplace, teachers to the next generation, civil servants, and as farmers providing food security to our country.
Executive Director Michael O’Gorman began the FVC out of the back of his pick-up truck in January 2008. Michael has been a pioneering organic farmer for over 40 years and worked as a production manager for some of the nation’s largest organic vegetable companies including Jacobs Del Cabo.
Through new grants the FVC also continues to bring in new members for its Fellowship Fund. Some great examples of farming veterans include Drew Wood and Matt Soldano.FVC provides veterans with mentorships, connections with agriculture training programs, educational retreats, informational resources on beginning farming operations, and, when available, small grants. When approached by new veterans, FVC acquires a general picture of their service careers, specific interests, and background in agriculture and caters its services to each vet individually.
Drew Wood, a U.S. Air Force veteran, hit the ground running in building a successful poultry farm. Drew grew up spending time on his stepfather’s farm in Berryville, Arkansas and experiencing the distinct taste of freshly grown food. He explains jokingly that from his military experience, he developed an idea of what bad food was, and after returning and spending years doing other jobs, he revisited his passion for fresh food and farming. Drew and his fiancé, Katie, now own and run Shady Grove Farm in Berryville. FVC recently granted Drew through its Fellowship Fund, which has helped him purchase poultry raising and processing equipment to facilitate their operation. Katie says that the purchases made possible by the grant “make us look more professional and save us time and energy we can spend elsewhere.”
Matt Soldano is a Marine Corps veteran who grew up in Ramsey, New Jersey, a small suburban town with no ties to farming. After four years of service, Matt worked several different jobs as he transitioned back into civilian life. After working for his family’s company, Matt explains that his work in business turned into a love affair with agriculture. Matt began Southtown Farms, LLC in Mahwah, New Jersey in 2010. The mission of his farm is to “heal the land through sustainable agriculture practices, and make my community a healthier place to live and thrive.” His business focuses on their egg laying chickens. To help Matt with the start of his chicken farm, FVC provided him with informational resources on poultry and later purchased a chicken coop and an environmental shelter for the coop.
FVC also supports farming veterans in other ways. USDA Risk Management Agency recently granted FVC to host the “Empowering Women Veterans: Success in Agriculture Business and Wellbeing” conference in July 2012 in Davis, California. This conference, the first of its kind, aims to accomplish multiple goals. It will bring women veterans together in an environment specifically designed to address their unique experiences and needs. Women leaders in business and agriculture will speak to the veterans about the challenges faced by women in both sectors as well as the programs available to help women succeed.
Our country’s veterans have faced extreme emotional and physical challenges, both during and after their terms. Not only have these farming veterans given back to our country on the battlefield, but they continue to give back in America’s fields and on our tables. Their work in agriculture provides them with the internal satisfaction from working for a greater cause and also provides communities with healthy, farm-fresh food. We salute these men and women in deep recognition on this Veterans Day for their lifelong dedication to serving others.
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