Soldiers returning from overseas to the economic stalemate at home are finding solace and jobs on farms across the country, thanks to the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition (FVC).
FVC executive director and organic farmer Michael O’Gorman says there is an agricultural niche that returning veterans seem to be uniquely able to fill. On the one hand, there is a shortage of young farmers in rural America; on the other hand, the support system and demand for locally grown and organic food are burgeoning. “The incredible sense of hard work, self-sacrifice, and service developed in the military is perfectly suited and immediately transferable to farming. And there have never been so many opportunities for new farmers,” O’Gorman says.
There is demand among veterans, too. More than 130 veterans and active-duty service members have contacted the coalition, and about 30 are already on farms or in the process of starting their own farms. Matt Mccue, an Iraq war veteran and the co-owner of Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, California, began collaborating with the coalition when he returned from doing agricultural Peace Corps work in West Africa. He says it was the thought of working with the nuts and bolts of society that inspired him to farm.
“All societies work from the soil, essentially. When the soil is degraded, that is when civilizations collapse,” says Mccue. “The farmer-soldiers I’ve met have a lot of unique tools and skill sets. People join the military because they think outside the box. There is a huge potential for former military personnel to find solutions to some of the big-picture problems and food-security issues facing society.”
O’Gorman says the connections being made through the coalition have been incredibly rewarding for everyone involved. “There are a lot of groups out there to help veterans. But in a way, the farming community needs them. And that is often what is most healing—they are heroes many times over.”