Growing Change — Farmer Veteran Coalition

From serving the nation in the military to serving the nation food and fiber, many U.S. veterans are returning from combat to jobs in agriculture. Farming—with its taxing schedule and intense physical labor demands—is a good fit for such a hardworking and dedicated group.

Today, there are over 23 million veterans in the United States. Agriculture can provide an important source of income for veterans, particularly at a time when unemployment rates have skyrocketed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, throughout 2012 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent—compared to about 7.9 percent for the general U.S. population. Particularly hard hit are female post-9/11 veterans with an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent. All in all, there are more than 200,000 unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in this country.

That’s where the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) comes in. Their mission is to mobilize veterans to work in sustainable farming jobs, creating a smooth transition into civilian life. Michael O’Gorman founded the organization and is its current leader, with 40-plus years under his belt as an organic farmer. He started FVC because of two converging trends: the aging farmer population in the U.S., and the high unemployment rate of veterans. Helping recent veterans find farming jobs hit the two issues with one stone, and FVC was created in 2008. The organization has taken off and now works with 1,000 veterans in 48 states.

Farmer Veteran Coalition

Tia Christopher is chief of staff at FVC. She says that while some of the organization’s veterans grew up on farms or have an agricultural connection, this is not universally the case. “Some of them get a brilliant idea that they want to be farmers, even though they have no experience whatsoever,” she says. They come from different professional backgrounds, geographic locations and military experiences. FVC finds a unique opportunity for each returning veteran through one of its many programs.

FVC is chock full of programming, from farm retreats, to financial planning and business courses, to a small grants program that helps aspiring farmer veterans build up their initial infrastructure. Another FVC program is the farm equipment exchange and donation program, or FEED, where individuals or dealers can donate used or new farm equipment to the organization. This equipment is given to disabled or financially challenged veteran farmers.

The FVC staff members represent all of the military branches (except for the Coast Guard). Being veterans themselves makes the organization’s work personal. “For us as veterans they’re our peers, they’re our brothers and sisters and so we really care about the people who contact us,” Tia says. This dedication and passion shows with each and every veteran they help.

One veteran in particular who stands out for Tia is Mickey Clayton, a single mother who is half Lakota Indian and half Puerto Rican. She is also an Army combat veteran who sustained a severe leg injury in Iraq. Having grown up on a South Dakota reservation among sheep, Mickey became mesmerized by the nomadic Awassi sheepherders in Iraq. Upon returning home, she decided to start a farm with FVC’s help. Now Mickey raises unusual breeds—that garner higher prices—like Navajo-Churro Sheep and Muscovy Ducks on Dot Ranch in Northwestern Oregon. She is one of FVC’s Bob Woodruff Farming Fellows, a program that has helped her secure adaptive farming equipment, making it possible for her to wrangle sheep even with her injury. And if being a single mother and raising all of those breeds wasn’t enough, Mickey also has a successful Etsy business selling her wool.

With Dot Ranch thriving, Mickey is now able to give back. She’s an ambassador for the FVC at Native American sheepherder events, and has ushered other vets into the FVC family. Tia says giving back like this demonstrates the program’s success. “Success for us honestly is when the veterans are able to mentor their peers, employ their peers, and pay it forward.”

The FVC has a strong connection to Farm Aid’s work of supporting the family farmer. Farm Aid was one of FVC’s earliest supporters, granting them $17,000 since 2009 to support their programming, most recently supporting their work training more than 100 veterans in farming skills, offering business planning to 31 veterans, and helping veterans secure legal counseling and disaster assistance in times of crisis. But that’s not all; Farmer Veteran Coalition has a huge presence at the Farm Aid concert each year, as part of the farmer meetings that take place before the concert and as part of the HOMEGROWN Village at the concert. FVC brings farmer veterans to Farm Aid from across the country to network with other farmers and spread the mission of the organization. Tia finds the jovial spirit of the Farm Aid concert conducive for recruiting would-be veteran farmers. “It’s really cool because we get awesome mentors and farmers to sign on with us when we’re at Farm Aid each year,” she says. Last year they recruited a veteran mushroom farmer and an entomologist.

Tia and her colleagues see the importance of the work they do everyday—not only finding employment for veterans, but also encouraging them to keep their spirits up and put their strong sense of service to use. Each and every farmer veteran motivates and inspires Tia. “It is often stated that farming and the military are two of the hardest professions; at FVC we believe that it takes a special type of person to do either, let alone both. I think the quality that’s most important for both is determination, and our farmer veterans have it in droves.” Helping military heroes and growing new farmers makes the Farmer Veteran Coalition a true Farmer Resource Network provider hero!

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Photo above provided courtesy of Jim Carroll Photography.

FDA’s proposal to the Food Safety Modernization Act threatens family farmers and sustainable practices

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was passed by Congress in 2010 was the first major update to federal food safety laws in 72 years. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed laws to implement the provisions in the FSMA. These new rules leave out crucial aspects of the bill that were initially created to protect small, mid-sized and sustainable farmers.

While there needs to be an up-to-date and feasibly implemented food safety law, the FDA’s current proposal would force many family farmers to pay significant compliant costs. These fees could cost farmers up to half of their profits without many of the protections currently allotted to them. If passed the law potentially threatens local food sources, placing any farm with a profit of over $500,000 on the same level as any industrial agricultural conglomerate. The proposal also ignores Congress’ initial mandate that the FSMA must comply with The National Organic Program, making it difficult for farmers to implement natural or organic practices.

At this year’s concert, Farm Aid teamed up with our resource partner, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), to form a petition that concertgoers could sign against the FDA’s proposal. You can take a stand for family farmers and sustainable agriculture by signing that petition here. There is a comment period on the proposed rules until November 15, so NSAC created a comprehensive guide to form comments to the FDA for consumers and farmers alike supporting local food systems and family farmers.

Webinar and FDA Hearings on Food Safety Rules In Northeast

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed in January of 2011. Now the Food and Drug Administration is presenting its proposed rules about how it plans to carry out this law. Public hearings allow farmers, processors, retailers and consumers to ask questions of the FDA, express concerns and better understand the regulations and their complexities, as well as figure out how to operate under the new rules.

There are two upcoming hearings in the Northeast this August. The first will be held on August 19th in Augusta, Maine from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. The second will be held on the Vermont/New Hampshire border on August 20th.

The New England Farmers Union has expressed concerns that small farmers, like those in New England, could be negatively impacted by the new regulations. They have been pushing members to learn more about the FSMA, to comment on the proposed rules and to attend the upcoming hearings. Click here to learn more about their take on the issue and to find out more information about the hearings.

Also, the New England Food System Policy Project (a project of American Farmland Trust, Conservation Law Foundation, and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group); Food Solutions New England; Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation; New England Farmers Union; Rhode Island Division of Agriculture; UMass Extension; University of Rhode Island are hosting a free webinar on FSMA for New England food producers, buyers, and those working toward a resilient New England food system. The webinar will be August 13, 2013, from 12:00-1:30 PM. Click here to register.

For additional information about the FSMA visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s issue page, and the FDA’s FSMA page.

The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training

The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training – or CRAFT— is a farmer-led coalition that helps to prepare the next generation of farmers. The program started in 1994 in upstate New York and has since spread across the U.S. and Canada.

CRAFT networks offer a unique opportunity for new and beginning farmers to share ideas, resources, and skills through a variety of formal and informal learning.  Apprentices participate in regular gatherings at local farms where mentor farmers talk about a range of issues for farm operations. Collaborative on-farm learning fosters farmer-to-farmer relationships and creates a social network within the local community for people just starting out in agriculture. Programing includes: farms interns/apprentices, mentoring, field days, technical assistance, workshops, conferences, social gatherings, strategic business planning courses, farm incubators, and more.

Below are just a few of the many CRAFT projects happening across the country. Click here to learn about additional CRAFT groups, and contact CRAFT@learngrowconnect.org or 815-389-8455 with any questions.

 

Chesapeake CRAFT

Maryland, Virginia, Maryland

Chesapeake CRAFT was founded in 2010 and has grown significantly since then. The program offers farm tours and potlucks throughout the growing season to build the regional farming network. Events, like farm tours, take place on twelve Mondays throughout the growing season starting at 3:30pm. They are followed by a potluck dinner. The next farm tour is June 3rd at Common Good City Farm in Washington, DC. The fee for joining Chesapeake CRAFT is $150.00, which includes attendance of all farm staff to any CRAFT event during the season. For more information e-mail chesapeakecraft@gmail.com.

 

Sierra CRAFT

California

Farmers who make up this CRAFT group stem from Sierra, Plumas, Yuba, Nevada, Placer and Eldorado Counties in the Sierra Mountains of California. The group provides on-farm field days throughout the year for farmers and ranchers, a listserv, and farm business planning classes—all to create an exchange of information between area farmers. Sierra CRAFT is funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program of the USDA.

 

CRAFT Southeast

Tennessee, North Carolina

CRAFT Southeast launched in 2012 with a goal to strengthen sustainable farming in the Southern Appalachian region. The groups started with funding provided by the Beattie Foundation, and by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Established farmers and aspiring farmers alike are encouraged to join. Contact Cameron with questions at 828-338-9465 or cameron@organicgrowersschool.org

 

Kentucky CRAFT

Kentucky

KY CRAFT focuses on the bond between mentors and interns as a vital way to grow careers in organic farming. Their mission is to not only broaden future farmers’ awareness of sustainable agriculture opportunities, but also to showcase a variety of regional operations. The group holds monthly workshops and hosts a community calendar that displays field days and other events hosted at KY CRAFT farms.

 

Northwest Lower Michigan CRAFT

Michigan

The Northwest Lower Michigan CRAFT is all about community. Farms that want to join must do two things: 1) host a CRAFT event during the growing season; and 2) allow their interns and apprentices to attend CRAFT events. Events generally consist of farm tours, a 30-60 minute demonstration of a farming skill, and a potluck meal. Hosting farms may join CRAFT for free; individuals not connected to a member farm can attend events for a recommended donation of $5-10 per tour. Contact Amanda Kik at 231-622-5252 or amanda@artmeetsearth.org for more information.

 

North Fork Valley CRAFT

Colorado

The North Fork Valley CRAFT runs a lecture series as well as farm tours on participating farms throughout the growing season. There is also an intern Round Table dinner that includes sharing current events, experiences and support systems. The next CRAFT program is a Large Scale Compost workshop on June 4th. Upcoming classes include fruit growing, and permaculture. Contact Lynn Ruoff at lynnruoff@gmail.com or 970-319-9434 for more information.

Upcoming Food Sovereignty Summit in Wisconsin

The Oneida Nation, First Nations Development Institute, Intertribal Agriculture Council and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College invite you to this year’s Food Sovereignty Summit. Learn from Native nonprofits and Native nations about best practices in the areas of food sovereignty and food systems.

This year’s summit will be held April 15-18 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
 
The summit offers three professional training tracks (though attendees can attend sessions in multiple tracks): 

Track 1: Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Track 2: Community Outreach and Development

Track 3: Business Management, Finance and Marketing

Registration rates are as follows:

Student–$80.00 for full conference
Food Producers–$100.00 for 1 day /
$150.00 for full conference
Non-Food Producers–$150.00 for 1 day / $250.00 for full conference
—–

Click here for more information and to see a summit schedule.

Are You Counted? USDA Extends Ag Census Deadline

It’s not too late to be counted in the U.S. Census of Agriculture!

Farmers and ranchers across the country are heeding the call to have their voices heard and their farms represented in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. With 1.4 million Census forms returned, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) thanks everyone for speaking up by sending in their Census form.

For those who missed the deadline, USDA reminds producers that their farm is important and needs to be counted. As a result, Census forms are still being accepted.

Farmers and ranchers can return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure website, www.agcensus.usda.gov. Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential. Anyone with over $1,000 in ag sales in 2012 is considered a farmer for the Census of Agriculture.

*Those that didn’t receive a questionnaire in the mail should sign up at the same site by March 31 and USDA will send them a questionnaire.

Certified Pesticide Drift Monitor Trainings in Iowa

Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) created the “Drift Catcher” to help communities document and provide proof of chemical exposure to pesticides. A Drift Catcher is a simple, inexpensive and scientifically robust device that collects air samples that can be analyzed for pesticides. PANNA’s one-day trainings teach farmers, farmworkers, and anyone living in agricultural areas to operate Drift Catchers and document pesticide drift at the local level.

PANNA is holding upcoming Pesticide Drift Monitor Trainings in Iowa on March 9th and 10th. Those interested should apply as soon as possible by filling out this short questionnaire.

OFRF Leads First-ever Organic Phone Flash Mob!

Pick up the phone and join Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) in their first Organic Phone Flash Mob to Congress! At 3:00 pm on Wednesday, September 19th, OFRF will lead the callers at the Organic Trade Association’s annual Organic Summit and at home in dialing their representatives to ask for their support of organic initiatives, research, cost share and transition assistance programs for farmers in the 2012 Farm Bill.

For more information and a short prepared script, visit OFRF’s blog. For your representatives’ contact information, view this public database and search by zip code or by state.