FVC Stakeholders Conference a Capitol Success

farmer veteran coalition staff photo 2023

Farmer Veteran Coalition joined with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and FDRS (Food Distribution Research Society) for a successful gathering at the National Agricultural Marketing Summit Nov. 12-14 at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Conference rooms were filled with engaging speakers as the summit’s theme, “Cultivating Connections,” shared the challenges and successes of agriculture and food distribution.

“This was the first co-branded Farmer Veteran Coalition annual Stakeholder Conference,” said FVC Executive Director Jeanette Lombardo. “We listened with our members and understood the importance of market access for the success of their operations.

“I think all attendees learned much from each other, and the researchers present from many universities across the country — who are trying to solve the concerns in the agricultural and food insecurity space — left with a new perspective. It was a win-win for everyone.”

The first day of the conference consisted of a tour for attendees to two locations, Mt. Vernon, the historic home of America’s first president George Washington, and the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture.

The first part of the tour allowed attendees to tour the mansion, see the historic area, gardens, tomb and farm. Afterwards, attendees were treated to a tour of a farm that once belonged to George Washington, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Woodlawn-Pope Leighey. They shared information about their training programs, and demonstrated their sustainable growing practices.

The conference’s lunch banquet and opening plenary included a powerful speech by Mike Reynolds, who suffered traumatic brain injury during is Army deployment to Iraq in 2009. During his long journey of recovery, Reynolds established HERO Agriculture, which benefits Veterans like himself who have found farming to be therapeutic and aids in the recovery process.

Reynolds’ talk included him pulling numerous items out of a storage chest to illustrate how the military outfits individuals to serve their country, but how similar equipment to deal with life after service is sadly lacking.

Three Farmer Veteran Coalition members then shared their stories during the Successful Farming Panel.

Army Veteran Joshua Morris spoke about his Homestead Ranger ranch operation in the Missouri Ozarks that raises cattle and goats, as well as sells hay and timber. He’s written a book, “Thrive in the Coming Dark Age: How to Build the Ultimate Survival Homestead,” and gave out a couple during the panel. Morris’ ranch utilized grants with the Fellowship Fund and the Geared to Give program with Kubota.

Brandon Breaux and his wife Lauren own Cockeyed Farms, the first American elderberry farm in Louisiana. The Army veteran suffered severe cluster headaches after his return from Iraq as a helicopter pilot, and researched higher-quality food options and the benefits of elderberry. Breaux used the MarketMaker platform and Homegrown By Heroes label to bolster his success.

Navy Veteran Michael Davis founded Sweet Doe Dairy in Vermont, which pioneered premium farmstead goat milk gelato. He also said the Homegrown By Heroes label on his packaging enticed consumers to support a military veteran and give his gelato a try.

During the evening banquet and awards reception, FVC presented its first state chapter awards, which included monetary gifts.

Outstanding Chapter Awards recognizing outreach and programming went to Washington, first place and $750; North Carolina, second place and $500; and a tie for third place between Minnesota and Idaho, who received $250 apiece.

The Chapter Membership Increase Award was presented to the Montana FVC chapter, which saw a 15.3 percent increase in membership from the beginning of the year to the end of October. A $250 gift was provided.

FVC founder Michael O’Gorman presented the Founder’s Award to Gary Matteson, president of the board of directors and a longtime supporter of Famer Veteran Coalition. Matteson is Senior Vice President, Beginning Farmer Programs and Outreach, with Farm Credit.

Sessions during the conference included presentations of research papers on food distribution, discussions on agricultural marketing and business innovation, and FVC-sponsored talks on livestock management, beekeeping, and urban agriculture.

The conference concluded with the awarding of raffle prizes for two children’s tractors and a plush tractor toy, all provided by Kubota, as well as the retiring of the Colors.