Rhone Draws on Experience for FVC Role

Staff spotlight Lawrence Rhone
Army Veteran Lawrence Rhone, shown here with CEO Jeanette Lombardo, combines his military experience and civilian knowledge, to benefit other Veterans as FVC’s project manager.

Lawrence Rhone brings a wealth of experience to his role as project manager with Farmer Veteran Coalition from his years of military service to his current farming in Montana.

Lawrence joined FVC in January 2022. He oversees several programs, including the Montana USDA Veteran Farmer/Rancher Grant, Ag Careers (of which he is a coordinator), and recruitment with the Kubota Tech – Career Connect Program. 

“My role with the Farmer Veterans Coalition affords me the opportunity to share my knowledge, experience, and resource network on a national platform,” he said. “It also provides me with national insight into Veteran Farmer/Rancher specific challenges in navigating the realm of agriculture and ranching.”

Lawrence is a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He served in the U.S. Army during both the Cold War and Gulf War eras.

He was in field artillery as a forward observer whose duties included directing close air support. Additionally, he is a Defense Language Institute-certified translator in German and remains proficient as a simultaneous translator.

As an accredited Veteran Service Officer, he is an expert on accessing, maintaining, and sustaining all Veteran-earned benefits and support programing.

He also is accredited as a claims representative with the Office of General Counsel, a member of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and an advanced-level facilitator of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). WRAP is an evidence-based program that supports individuals in navigating significant life events. He also is a certified peer coach.

Life in Montana

In 2013, Lawrence — who spent several years of his post-military life overseeing 30 trucks as a crude oil trucking fleet manager — and his wife Gisela moved to a farm in Flaxville, Montana, in the northeast corner of the state. They grow fruit trees and have a small livestock operation of cattle and sheep.

“Our focus is to be conservation-oriented, organic-practicing, responsible stewards of our agriculture setting,” he said.

Gisela is a crafts person who specializes in handcrafted-to-order products such as quilts, hats, socks, scrubbies, and throw pillows. She also manages the planning and production of their on-farm products and produces farm-to-table jellies, jams and syrups (sandcherry, chokecherry and currants).

They have three K-9s: Chance, Ivy and Dutchess.

“Each of our K-9s are rescues that we have trained and rehabilitated,” Lawrence said. “Each K-9 was scheduled for destruction, but now live a K-9’s dream farm life.”

Their son Byron, 36, is a business owner in Austria and a former professional football player in Europe.

Starting the Farm

They began their farm journey by purchasing the land with a VA loan. An FSA microloan enabled them to purchase a tractor and small semi with trailer. From there they transitioned to a farm operations loan in order to buy the implements and tools needed to operate efficiently.

That included contracting with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on fruit tree planting and production (1,200 trees native to Montana fruit), to a whole farm micro-irrigation system, to cover crop planting for soil health management, and high-tunnel acquisition for extended growing season production.

The Rhones were also an FVC grant recipient in 2020, which provided a brand-new replacement lawn tractor.

Lawrence works with FVC, NRCS, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and local biologists and conservationists in seminars throughout Montana “to provide mentorship for former service members (Warriors) in navigating their transition from the battlefield or active service to a farm or ranch setting,” Lawrence said. “We have served over five Veteran families in this capacity locally, the most recent currently in recovery/transition. This includes over 250 statewide.”

Working with FVC

Lawrence said he has embraced a couple of quotations in his duties with FVC. One is “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The other comes from Alan Cohen, who wrote: “Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf.”

Lawrence believes his experiences — in military and civilian life — makes him well-suited for his work with FVC and Veterans.

“My life story is one that is diverse in nature and has afforded me a tremendous capacity to empathize with numerous cultural backgrounds, in numerous geographic locations,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to experience the different social layers that exist in the United States, Germany (26 years), Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, France, and Great Britain, as a civilian.

“The capacity I have acquired provides me with unique insight on how fortunate we are to live in the state of Montana and this great country, the United States of America. My passion is serving my community.

“Specifically, I seek to serve the Veterans from every generation in navigating the process of accessing their earned Veterans Administration benefits through active ‘boots on the ground’ outreach.

“Educating my community on this select group of individuals and developing innovative solutions on how to serve them is our mission. The cornerstone of every single part of what we strive to achieve through service is ‘suicide prevention through engagement, education, mentorship, peer support, and advocacy.’”