FVC’s Timeline: History, Accomplishments & Impact

In 2009, Farmer Veteran Coalition incorporated as a project of Community Partners, our fiscal sponsor. 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. We had a big idea and we were ready to get busy.

It is hard to imagine how new the concept was – mobilizing veterans to feed America. But we already had found about 15 veterans who were eager to become farmers. Our plan was simple: find a way to help them, and then tell their story.

The story was simple and told best with a picture. A young man or woman joined the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard after 9/11 (most of them), deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan (many of them), and here they are with their pigs or chickens or tomatoes. It was a story of courage and resilience, transformation and optimism. It was a story for our time.

A lot has happened over the past decade and we at FVC are proud to have been at the forefront of this important movement all along. But, after all these years, it is still finding ways to help an individual veteran transition to a farmer that motivates us.

    • 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.
    • May 2009 FVC gets named the 51st group in the Coalition for Iraq + Afghanistan Veterans (CIAV), funded by the largest single donation to organizations helping America’s veterans.
    • September 2009 FVC becomes the first organization funded in decades by the USDA to help train veterans in agriculture. FVC sub-contracts National Center for Appropriate Technology to help create what becomes the Armed to Farm program.
    • October 2009 O’Gorman addresses the Government Partners Day in Washington, D.C., hosted by the CIAV with a dozen leaders from the USDA in attendance. O’Gorman quotes a recent study from the Carsey Institute showing the disproportionate number of our all-volunteer post 9-11 military coming from rural communities. Within days, Secretary Tom Vilsack begins extolling this important message.
    • 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.
    • July 2011 At a beginning farmer conference at Drake University, O’Gorman proposed that the USDA launch a microloan for veterans starting their farm operations with less than three years of experience. A USDA staff person in attendance called Secretary Vilsack’s office as soon as the talk was over and O’Gorman was asked to fly to DC at the earliest possible date. When he arrived six days later the regulations were already being drafted and reviewed. A few months later USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden published an article in the Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer with O’Gorman as co-author, announcing micro-loans of up to $50,000 targeting veterans. When the program was fully implemented it included all beginning farmers but veterans are given preference and have received millions of dollars to launch their farms.
    • May 2012 O’Gorman joined a phone call with Taylor Reed, a Michigan State grad student, and staff members working for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow to propose the formation of the office of Military Veteran Agriculture Liaison at the USDA. The office was written into law when the Farm Bill passed in 2014.
    • Summer 2012 O’Gorman has numerous discussions with offices of Senators Debbie Stabenow, Max Baucus, John Boozman and Mike Johanns, all looking for ways to build support for veterans into the impending farm bill. Baucus suggested, and O’Gorman supported, giving preference to eligible Veteran Farmers or Ranchers applying for conservation financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). O’Gorman proposed, and Johanns supported, funding nonprofits that help veterans become farmers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). O’Gorman proposed to Boozman classifying veterans as an underserved community, which led to adding support for veterans into the Office for Advocacy and Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Veterans, known as 2501.
    • 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 each of these two challenging and male-dominated careers.
    • November 2012 A group of agricultural leaders, FVC team members and a representative from the Department of Defense meet in Des Moines, Iowa to draft FVC’s governance. Guiding Principles are adopted committing FVC to being non-partisan, apolitical, collaborative and supportive of an ecumenical approach to agriculture. Gary Matteson, VP of Young, Beginning and Small Farmer Programs at Farm Credit is chosen to be President of our Board of Directors.
    • December 2012 Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farm Fields is released for showing around the country. Producer Dulanie Ellis’ documentary captured the transition from war to farming of many of FVC’s earliest members, helping to generate a groundswell of interest in the farmer veteran movement nationwide.
    • November 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 Heroes 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 Homegrown By Heroes campaign.
    • January 2014 In San Antonio, Texas, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman rolled out the Farm Bureau/Farmer Veteran Coalition Partnership Agreement. The 12-page document, drawn up by Sabrina Matteson, outlined how all 50 state and 2800 county Farm Bureau chapters could get involved in supporting FVC’s efforts.
    • February 2014 The White House invited FVC Founder and Director Michael O’Gorman to the signing of the 2014 Food and Farm Bill in East Lansing, Michigan. For the first time, the Farm Bill included historic recognition and support for veterans transitioning into agriculture. So much support for veterans was built into the law that FVC contracted the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University to identify all the programs for USDA staff as well as our members.
    • March 2014 O’Gorman went to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the annual convention of National Farmers Union (NFU), one of FVC’s earliest supporters. NFU board members endorsed its partnership with FVC and FVC board member and Kansas farmer Donn Teske was elected Vice President of NFU.
    • March 2014 FVC receives its 501c3 status from the IRS and becomes a stand-alone nonprofit on January 1, 2015, after separating from Community Partners of Los Angeles.
    • September 2014 FVC partner, National AgrAbility Project, announced the hiring of Colonel Cindra (Cindy) Chastain, who deployed to Afghanistan from 2009-10 as Deputy Commander of the 1-19th Agribusiness Development Team, as the Farmer Veteran AgrAbility Coordinator. With 50% of FVC members having a service-connected disability rating from Veterans Affairs, FVC and AgrAbility further their efforts to support farmer veterans with disabilities.
    • October 2014 Illinois Department of Agriculture and FVC sign a MOU allowing for the use of the Homegrown by Heroes label in conjunction with the state’s Illinois Products mark. Twenty two other state departments of agriculture will follow with similar updates.
    • November 2014 The first national Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference brings 200 people to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden gave the Keynote speech at which time she named conference attendee Karis Gutter the USDA’s first Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison. Also speaking at the conference, were ranking members of the USDA, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration, Department of Defense and Department of Labor and Veterans Affairs. For the first time ever, key departments of the Federal government were sharing ideas about a critical, yet previously ignored, sector of those returning home from service. This dialog spurred monthly inter-agency meetings and numerous inter-agency agreements over the next few years.
    • March 2015 FVC enters into a partnership with Kubota Tractor Corporation. Kubota supports FVC’s Fellowship Fund, our operating expenses, and launches its Geared to Give program, awarding new versatile tractors to FVC members selected through the Fellowship Fund.
    • Spring 2015 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, and then involving more than 700 FVC members.
    • November 2015 FVC holds its second national Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference in Sacramento, California. Lanon Baccam addresses the gathering as the second Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison.
    • November 2015 FVC approves its first four chartered state chapters in Maine, Vermont, Michigan and Kansas. Maine eventually folds its chapter but the others are 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“. 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.
    • November 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, features 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.
    • November 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.  With this annual awarding of grants, 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.
    • September 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 debut national TV appearance live on Fox & Friends for National Day of the Farmer, in conjunction with Tractor Supply Company.
    • November 2019 At our national conference in Austin, 500 members of our community gathered strong. Charlie Kruse – a retired two-star general, farmer, long-time leader of Missouri Farm Bureau, and vice president of our Board of Directors – stood up to speak.“I got dragged into FVC,” he closed out the session, “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 crosses the $3 million mark. Kubota provided an additional 5 pieces of equipment through the ‘Geared to Give’ program in partnership with country music artist Brantley Gilbert, including 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 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.
    • November 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.
  • Our vision of the future is an organization that will be around for decades, in every state and continuing to unite the agricultural sector – government, education, private industry, conventional and alternative farming and the veterans themselves. It will no longer be important to know how and when we began, but that we will be there, offering assistance to all those who chose to serve their country twice – once by defending it and a second time by feeding it.