February 12th is an important day at Farmer Veteran Coalition. We could simply tell you that it’s our 14th Anniversary of officially becoming a non-profit organization, and that is a great fact on its own. Although, it might more interesting if we share what led up to that point, and some of the interesting events and stories that have led us to current day.
On a Sunday in 2007, in California’s Central Coast, three women who had all lost their sons in either Iraq or Afghanistan were asked to gather by Michael O’Gorman and talk about creating jobs on their farms for returning veterans. What began as an idea to help both farmers in rural areas who had lost family or others who worked for them, as well as veterans returning from service looking for a new opportunity, often a new purpose too. Between then and now, there are a lot of stories of persistence, inspiration and determination that occurred to create the organization we know today. Some developments were slow and methodical over many years. While others started by a chance in person meeting and developed very quickly. Here are some additional stories for you to understand how we grew from an idea to a national organization with 36,000 members.
The Very Beginning
May 6, 2007 Nadia McCaffrey, Dolores Kesterson and Mary Tillman, (mother of Pat Tillman) met with Michael O’Gorman at Swanton Berry Farm to talk about creating jobs on our farms for returning veterans.
February 2009 FVC became a project of Community Partners of Los Angeles and opened a small office in Davis, CA. A few days earlier we had set up shop in our $250/month office – a book storage room in downtown Davis, California with two desks, a phone number and an address. On February 12, 2009. Farmer Veteran Coalition incorporates as a project of Community Partners of Los Angeles, becoming the first nonprofit in modern time focused on connecting veterans with careers in agriculture and focusing on the veterans returning to rural communities. FVC Founder Michael O’Gorman becomes Executive Director.
2010 Filming began for the documentary film, Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farm Fields. An award-winning documentary and social action campaign, this powerful film championed the growing network of combat veterans who are transitioning into careers as farmers. Producer Dulanie Ellis, captured the transition from war to farming of many of FVC’s earliest members.
April 2011 With funding fromBob Woodruff Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation, FVC launches the Fellowship Fund. The first round of farmer veteran awardees include Mark Beyers, double-amputee Marine veteran, who received an evaporator for his maple syrup business. Also, Director O’Gorman proposed a micro-loan for the USDA as a way to help veterans transitioning from military service to their farm careers. After next meeting in DC, the USDA published its first concept paper with O’Gorman before adapting the plan to include all beginning farmers.
July 2012 FVC held its first Empowering Women Veterans: Agriculture, Business and Well-being conference in Davis, CA, bringing together more than fifty women who had pursued both challenging and male-dominated careers. During the rewriting of the Farm Bill, key Senators, Congressmen and their staff sought FVC’s advice on how to support veterans in the new Farm Bill. With no money or time allotted to advocacy, FVC successfully pushed for the creation of a new office, Military Agricultural Liaison.
January 2013 The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), under Commissioner James Comer, launched the Homegrown by Heroes campaign, designed to give the state’s farmer veterans recognition in the marketplace for their military service.Then on November 11, 2013 in a Veterans Day ceremony attended by Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressmen John Yarmuth and Andy Barr, FVC entered an agreement with Kentucky Department of Agriculture to promote and manage the Homegrown By Heros label in the 49 states outside of Kentucky. The Farm Credit banks – CoBank, AgriBank, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, and Farm Credit Bank of Texas – jointly awarded FVC a check of $250,000 to launch the HBH campaign. Also in 2013, FVC entered into milestone agreements with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit Council, and National Farmers Union. Another key partnership developed with the National AgrAbility Project.
Nov 2014 FVC sponsored the first Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference in Des Moines, Iowa in partnership with the Agricultural Law Center of Drake University. Two hundred government, non-profit, corporate and private leaders from around the country met for three days to foster collaboration and mutual support for all efforts to support veterans in Agriculture.
January 2015 FVC receives its 501c3 status from the IRS and becomes a stand-alone nonprofit on, after separating from Community Partners of Los Angeles.
March 2015 FVC enters into a partnership with Kubota Tractor Corporation, supporting FVC’s Fellowship Fund, operating expenses. Kubota launches its Geared to Give program, awarding new versatile tractors to FVC members selected through the Fellowship Fund. On March 31, 2015, FVC signed on more than 2,000 new members, bringing our total number of veteran members to over 4,500. Karen Besterman-Dahan, PhD, RD, Qualitative Core Director – Medical Anthropologist for the VA, begins a series of ground-breaking studies on the therapeutic benefits of gardening, farming and growing food for veterans. Dr. Besterman-Dahan began her studies after attending our Stakeholders Conference, first focusing on a small group from ‘Growing Veterans’ in Washington State.
Nov 2015 FVC holds its second national Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference in Sacramento, California. Lanon Baccam addresses the gathering as the second US Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison. FVC approves its first four chartered state chapters in Maine, Vermont, Michigan and Kansas. Soon joined by New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Texas and Washington State.
February 2016 FVC held its third “Empowering Women Veterans: Business, Agriculture and Wellbeing Conference”, with nearly 100 women gathered together in Tarrytown, NY at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Filmmakers Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson highlighted the stories of farmer veterans Anna Mann, Althea Raiford, and the late Sonia Kendrick in “Terra Firma”, a story about women, war, and healing on the farm.
June 2016 FVC and Farm Credit fly farmer veterans to DC for a Salute to Homegrown By Heroes on Capitol Hill, in honor of Farm Credit’s 100th anniversary. The event showcased the contributions of farmer veterans, celebrated the success of the Homegrown By Heroes program, and brought national attention to the Homegrown By Heroes members’ efforts. The next day 35 farmer veterans and Farm Credit staff met with Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Harden at the USDA building where they shared heart-rendering stories of their transitions to farming.
August 2017 Dr. Karen Besterman-Dahan published “Rooted in the Community: Assessing the Reintegration Effects of Agriculture on Rural Veterans”. For the first time the science backed up what we all knew – that farming and growing food gave veterans a new sense of purpose, enhanced their well-being, and improved the lives of veterans and their families. It was the first of several groundbreaking studies that Dr. Besterman-Dahan did on FVC members. Because of Karen’s work, the VA’s Office of Rural Health now funds pilot projects across the country, designed to combine vocational agricultural training with behavioral care services.
Nov 2017 USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announces a new grant opportunity to help military veterans pursue farming and ranching careers, the Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program (AgVets).This funding is made available due to the advocacy of retired Colonel Gary LaGrange, leader of S.A.V.E. Farm in Kansas. LaGrange, VP of FVC of Kansas, started S.A.V.E. after attending our first stakeholders’ conference in Des Moines.
July 2018 Farmer Veteran Coalition, supported by Farm Credit, unveiled a new Homegrown By Heroes logo during a special ceremony on Capitol Hill. The new HBH logo, which was updated for the first time in the program’s history, featuring refreshed colors, and most notably, the inclusion of a female service member.
October 2018 One-day Farmer Veteran Stakeholder Conferences are held in North Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.
Nov 2018 FVC is one of six organizations awarded funding under the new AgVets grant. All six groups attend a USDA Program Directors meeting coinciding with our fourth Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. The USDA’s third Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison, Bill Asthon, addressed the crowd as did Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.
February 2019 FVC receives its largest number of Fellowship Fund applicants at 350, and the lifetime total funding reaches nearly $2.5 million to over 600 members. Kubota awards an additional 5 tractors through the ‘Geared to Give’ program, bringing the total-to-date to 21 tractors.
Sept 2019 The 17,000th veteran member joins FVC! And ‘Lone Star & Stripes‘ – FVC’s national conference – quickly grows to become the largest conference to date before it’s even slated to take place in November 2019.
October 2019 Michael O’Gorman makes his national TV debut, live on Fox & Friends for National Day of the Farmer, in conjunction with Tractor Supply Company.
Nov 2019 500 members attended the National Stakeholders Conference in Austin, TX. Charlie Kruse – a retired two-star general, farmer, long-time leader of Missouri Farm Bureau, and vice president of our Board of Directors spoke,“I got dragged into FVC, by a couple individuals who believed someday FVC would become something really big.” Charlie looked around the ballroom at all eyes enthusiastically focused back on him and shared “We have hit that moment.”
January 2020 Country music star Brantley Gilbert partners with FVC on his 2020 Winter “Fire’T Up” Tour, to further his support of veterans and extend his deep appreciation of our nation’s farmers. Local Homegrown By Heroes members provide product for the backstage catering at 14 different concert stops across the country before the tour was cut short in March due to COVID-19.
May 2020 Three new state chapters join our family! Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee are announced as official FVC chapters. South Carolina joins the ranks a short few months later in August.
June 2020 With the 10th cycle of Fellowship Fund awards granted, total overall funding grows to $3 million. Kubota provided an additional five pieces of equipment through the ‘Geared to Give’ program in partnership with country music artist Brantley Gilbert, awarded at a special ceremony at his Alabama property.
July 2020 FVC Founder Michael O’Gorman officially passed the pitchfork to newly appointed Executive Director Jeanette Lombardo, and transitioned into his new role of Chief Agricultural Officer.
October 2020 FVC gains a partner in the Wounded Warrior Project, who announces expansion to support farmer veterans. They will partner with FVC in 2021 to fund 36 new fellowship grants – at least half of which are designated for female veterans.
Nov 2020 Michael dedicates his inaugural “Founder’s Award” to Nadia McCaffrey, mother of fallen soldier SGT Patrick McCaffrey Sr. and early supporter of the formation of FVC, and presented her the plaque with a moving message. The first FVC Virtual Conference took place due to Covid. Administration went completely Virtual with EarthClass Mail, Internet phones, and Bill.com. Closed our Davis, CA office and enabled all staff to work remote. Also Launched FVC merchandise fulfillment center.
2021 New Partnerships developed with AgCareers.com (job search website plug in), Market Maker licensing agreement was signed, Wounded Warriors joined as a new sponsor for the Fellowship Fund and the Combined Arms Campaign started. FVC, took complete ownership of the Homegrown By Heroes label. A California office established in Woodland, CA, a newly established Advisory Board and Board of Trustees were created.
2022 Opened a second office location in Waco, Texas (see below for more about our new home in Waco). Launched State Chapter Initiative, established a call center with 1-800-number. Revitalized the Fellowship Fund Application Program, updated the website and functionality. First Single Audit in FVC history marked growth of FVC in the area of Federal Grants awarded (over $750K for first time).
In celebration of FVC’s Anniversary this year, we reached out to long time agriculturalist and marine veteran, Len Monaco, who stated “He has long thought that the agriculture industry can utilize the skillsets and experiences of veterans”. Len was a regional manager with Farm Credit, was involved with FVC for a number of years and specifically the Fellowship Fund since 2014 said “It was enjoyable and rewarding to be involved with these veterans. Many of their stories are amazing.”