Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays…. from our home to yours!
As I write this, I am astounded that this is my fourth year-end annual message to our Farmer Veteran family! Time is fleeting.
This past year presented some unique hurdles for many of our farmers. From severe weather throughout the country, to rising input costs, labor costs and lack of availability of labor, price volatility, and cost and access to capital. I think we can all agree that it was a particularly challenging year, that many of us will be thankful to see in our rearview mirror.
However, with challenges, there also were opportunities. It was encouraging to see those who took advantage of grants in meat processing, renewable energy systems, value-added producer grants, young farmer grants, SARE grants as well as climate-smart agriculture programs. Many Homegrown By Heroes certified growers found innovative marketing niches and expanded their markets with our online sales platform and partnership with MarketMaker.
It is always good to take stock of the year passing, as you prepare goals and strategies for the year ahead. Here were a few milestones for your FVC in 2023:
- In January of 2023 we officially closed our Woodland, California office and in April we moved into our new headquarters in Waco, Texas. This move placed FVC in the CST, which benefited all our members as well as in the state where we currently have the most members.
- To provide superior Veteran services technical assistance we have added additional staff to the call center to support the increased volume of calls and emails received from over 46,000 members. Additionally, to support the executive teams of our state chapters, we constructed our Grant Department by creating a Grant Director role and now a State Chapter Coordinator position.
- This year we participated in several new grants for the benefit of the membership of FVC.
- Our first SAMHSA grant (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). This agency leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. FVC members are learning how to help those in their own rural communities and chapters.
- USDA Farm Service Agency DFAP (Discrimination Financial Assistance Program). This program provides financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who experienced discrimination in the USDA farm lending programs prior to 2021. The number of Veterans that have faced discrimination was genuinely concerning to me. I look forward to working with the USDA to assist with the changes in the culture of the FSA moving forward.
- Our first USDA Emergency Relief Program-Phase 2. This program aided producers who suffered a loss in revenue due to expenses associated with losses of eligible crops because of a qualifying disaster event.
- In 2023 FVC advocated for several updates to the Farm Bill, Veteran-specific concerns, and conducted extensive outreach and education on the PACT Act. FVC will continue to actively take part in these discussions to ensure that the Veteran farmer and rancher voice is heard.
Shortly we will step into 2024, and I am sure that it will present us with new challenges for our Farmer Veteran to solve. Know that FVC is committed to assisting our members with relevant technical assistance as well as case management to aid them in sustaining livelihoods in their new agricultural careers and businesses. The one lesson that 2023 has taught us all is that together our community of Farmer Veterans will find a way through it all. Here is a brief list of some of the projects ahead:
- We will be building capacity at our headquarters in Waco by recruiting for positions such as Volunteer Coordinator and Director of Fund Development. In January of 2024 we will have our first Regional Coordinator in the Delta Region (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas).
- FVC will continue to invest in the development of the Homegrown By Heroes label as we leverage new partnerships to seek placement of the label into the retail market.
- In the fall of 2023 FVC created their own podcast titled “Heroes of the Harvest,” and in 2024 we will develop a series of podcasts for specific crops that are of high interest to our membership, for example: beekeeping, ranching, and agritourism. Please stay tuned.
- FVC will be creating and rolling out an affinity program titled “Friends of FVC.” An affinity program highlights some of our business partnerships that offers a special rate on a type of service or product to our membership. In addition to increasing the number of discount partnerships we have, this plan will also welcome Corporate Associate Memberships.
- FVC will continue to enhance our program development on mentoring (internships and apprenticeships), food safety, procurement, and work force development.
Veteran Farmers are growing and expanding their businesses and replacing those farmers that are retiring from the industry. Our work is so vital as we strive to maintain food security in our country, despite the obstacles and the growing population. It is an incredible time to be working in agriculture with all the technical advancements made in precision and climate-smart agriculture.
I am so proud of the work our chapters and members are doing throughout the country, and I look forward to visiting you in the new year as we celebrate our 15th anniversary year together.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year!
Please enjoy your friends and family, and safe travels.