A second tour of duty for veterans
By Jessica Wharton
Washington—As America honors and remembers those who served our nation in the armed forces this Veterans Day, they can also support veterans by buying food and farm products with the Homegrown By Heroes label. Nearly 100 veterans from 76 different farms across the country are now participating in this Farmer Veteran Coalition initiative, which was launched earlier this year.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition works with and supports veterans who see an opportunity in agriculture upon returning from their military duties. Any farmer, rancher or fisherman who has served, or is still serving, in any branch of the U.S. military is eligible to apply to use the Homegrown By Heroes label. When customers see this logo on display, they know they are purchasing products grown or raised by veterans.
Army veteran Dan Hromas served in Iraq where he was injured in combat. Today, he is selling farm-fresh eggs in Omaha markets with the Homegrown By Heroes label, and finding that customers are eager to support veterans in this way.
“My eggs are flying off the shelf alongside others priced less expensive,” Hromas said.
The Homegrown By Heroes program has a diverse range of veterans, from those just returning from military duties to others who retired after serving in Vietnam. For many of these veterans farming is a new calling. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, released by the Agriculture Department, thousands of veterans are entering the industry as a fresh start.
Others, like Desert Storm National Guard veteran Shad Dasher, return home to the family business after serving their country. Dasher has spent most of his life on his 145-acre family farm in Georgia. As a third-generation Vidalia onion farmer, he now proudly carries the Homegrown By Heroes label.
Communities not only wholeheartedly welcome these heroes home but are also eager to pitch in and help them succeed. Matthew Brady, an Army veteran, served two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart before returning home to run his family’s 90-acre hay farm in Michigan. Upon hearing he was certified to carry the Homegrown By Heroes label, his neighbors offered him use of 160 more acres.
After the initial national launch of this program, the Illinois Farm Bureau became one of the first to work with its state agriculture department and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to create a state Homegrown By Heroes label and program. In addition to the use of the label for packaging, websites and social media, this program will offer farmer training and education programs, as well as provide informational resources. The Illinois state initiative will create mentorships for veterans with more experienced farmers, promote farmer training, increase farmers’ market opportunities, and foster relationships with retailers and food service organizations.
“Taking a state-wide approach will lead toward a cohesive program providing an opportunity for integration of resources and marketing opportunities,” Illinois Farm Bureau Manager of Business Development and Compliance Cynthia Haskins said.
As these veterans serve their country a second time by providing food and farm products, the Homegrown By Heroes label offers Americans another way to support our veterans throughout the year, not just on Veterans Day.
Jessica Wharton is a communications assistant at the American Farm Bureau Federation.