Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC)
Helping Veterans Pursue Careers in Agriculture
“After transitioning out of service, veterans are looking for a new purpose and many find that through farming,” Jeanette Lombardo the Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) says. “While farming isn’t an easy job, it’s a profession where veterans can use the skills they learned in the military to help them excel. Farming is also a way for veterans to continue serving their country and community by feeding it.”
The FVC connects farmer veterans with the resources available at both national and local levels. FVC also provides a Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund which announced $470,000 in small grant awards and equipment earlier this year.
“Since FVC was established in 2009, we have connected with more than 33,000 veterans around the country who were either pursuing a career in agriculture or are currently involved in agriculture,” Lombardo proudly says. She estimates that half of the farmers raise livestock and crops, while most of them raise crops.
The FVC created the official farmer veteran branding program of America, called Homegrown By Heroes.
Farmer veterans incorporate the label on their website landing pages, social media channels, and directly on their product packaging like egg cartons and meat labels. Currently, Farmer Veteran Coalition is working on a search tool that allows customers to search for Homegrown By Heroes producers in your area. Visit their page to learn more https://farmvetco.org/locator/. Here are a few farmer veterans that are specializing in poultry.
- Army veteran
- Owns and operates Beggs Pasture Raised Chicken and Eggs in Beggs, Oklahoma
- Raise about 1,000 chickens per year
- Facebook: Beggs Pasture Raised Chicken and Eggs
“I did not leave the military to become a farmer, but without a doubt, my service prepared me to be successful in building a poultry farm,” Hughes tells me. “In late 2019 my family moved from California to the mid-west, and we purchased a 40-acre farm. That move ignited a passion within me to begin to steward the land and serve others through the products that I raise on my land. We didn’t have any experience in farming, but we learned the importance of farming and gained knowledge through FVC, and other resources online.”
Hughes says she wanted to choose a career in agriculture after serving in the military to access clean protein, be more sustainable, and have the freedom to get away from the commercial poultry and their “abysmal practices”.
“Yet, the highest inspiration to choose agriculture was my children. After we bought our farm, I’ve seen my sons and daughter blossom in ways that I didn’t know was possible,” Hughes says. “In watching them explore our homestead, problem solve, and take care of animals, I knew that agriculture would not only benefit the community as consumers, but it would benefit my children in a myriad of ways. Agriculture teaches life lessons early – the payoff of perseverance, the value of hard work, and honesty, and the lasting impact of friendships make agriculture an important aspect in understanding the cycles of life and my service in the military taught me all these things as well.”
Hughes first learned about the FVC when she applied for the Farmer Veterans Fellowship Fund. The FVC has helped her by providing farming resources, training programs, Homegrown by Hero’s labels, and moral support. She says that consumers should choose veteran raised/grown products because supporting veterans is a wise investment in the structure of our nation.
“Just like my service in the military, my service to steward the land is an important aspect in ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare of our nation,” Hughes explains. “Agriculture provides opportunities for veterans to reintegrate to the civilian world with purpose, skills, and honor. My military service has helped us immensely in the food/farming industry; early morning and long hours are the essence of being on duty, and I’ve learned that animals require faithfulness, diligence, and intentionality, which, in my opinion, mimics the duties of soldiers daily.”
- Marine veteran
- Owns and operates The Flock Farm in Anna, Illinois
- Processes 400 per month and has 1,200 on pasture
- Instagram: TheFlockFarm
As a hands-on learner, Brent Glays became enthralled while inspecting slaughterhouses and working with local farmers. Today, almost seven years later and he and his family own 17 acres and use their neighbors 50. Started in 2018, The Flock Farm, co-owned by Brent and his wife April started be selling cuts of lamb out of the back of a trailer with a freezer and a generator.
“At that point neither of us had social media or any sort of online presence, and we didn’t intend to, but so many of our customers asked if we were on Facebook or how they could see pictures of our animals or what we were up to, so April started Facebook and Instagram accounts,” Glays explains. “To this day, I haven’t posted anything on either of them.”
April suggested raising poultry to supplement the summer income and so they could maintain their spot at market. She happened to bring the idea home around the same time Glays went to a poultry processing plant and saw the realities of what we are eating. Glays says he didn’t want to be part of that cycle and hasn’t eaten chicken from a grocery store since then. They decided on a third-party certifier for animal husbandry called A Greener World as a guideline to get started, and to get certified as Animal Welfare Approved.
“We started with Freedom Rangers, then Color Yields and Kosher Kings; now we raise Delaware and New Hampshire and have about a hundred of them in a flock on a separate pasture,” Glays says. “They are for eggs that we eat and sell and also to learn how to hatch on our own.”
“We start each season with 200 in February, then 400 a month every month until September, so in the heart of the season we have 1200 meat-birds on pasture at one time in three different stages. This year we are raising Kosher Kings for meat because we know and like them the most while we figure out the obstacles with our breeding program.”
They find 12 weeks to be the right amount of time with their custom non-GMO feed derived from whole roasted soybeans, corn, and Fertrell nutria-balancer. Their target weight is 3.5-4 lbs. per chicken.
“We do use tractors to protect them at night but let them out every morning at sunrise and shut the doors behind them once it gets dark outside — we use electric netting to keep the ground critters at bay. We do factor in 5% mortality to birds of prey, but we can justify this by looking at the mortality rates due to disease from those who raise in confinement, which is significantly higher. We also never have birds condemned at processing or die in transit.”
Glays’ birds get ten acres of pasture and forage freely. They are encouraged to take dust baths and every paddock has a wooded section for shade.
“They live the best possible lives, and by them being healthy they, in turn, keep us healthy. Our system, in my opinion, is the best possible way to raise chickens to be used for meat,” Glays says.
“I think these are the standards that a customer can expect from a veteran-owned business. One of the things I’ve come to realize, both from a Meat Inspector and a farmer’s perspective, is that there are a ton of labels out there on our food that make false claims, or are misleading, but the foundation of all branches of service is the same: integrity. That is the norm with us.”
Through the FVC grant, Glays was awarded $5,000 to put toward a tractor. Up until then they’ve built and run everything with shovels and his 97 F150.
“I’m currently shopping around,” Glays says. “When we find the right one I’m sure April will post pictures on social media so everyone can see the latest project, our growth, and one very lucky Marine.”
- Currently serving in the Army
- Owns and operates Skyline Pastures in Mohrsville, Pennsylvania
- Family flock plus hundreds of broilers
- Website: https://skylinepastures.com/
- Instagram: skylinepastures
“I work for the Army full time and farm in the morning before work and at night when I get home,” Charles Lafferty says. “I got interested in farming during my last deployment. I am an avid reader and read several books by Joel Salatin which got me excited about raising chickens and selling them for profit.”
“My main attraction to farming is that it allows me to improve upon my land, earn a living, feed my family the best possible food, and I will rarely have to leave my property,” Lafferty explains. “I learned about FVC from a friend of mine who manages veteran outreach programs in PA.”
While the equipment from the grant has not arrived yet, it will largely consist of electric fencing products to better help me rotate my animals.
“I think people should choose veteran raised/grown products as long as those products are competitively priced and well-produced,” Lafferty says. “If you can get a comparable product from a veteran as opposed to a non-veteran producer, then I think people might as well support someone trying to make a productive life for themselves after the military. Farming is very challenging, but also very rewarding and without customers, we won’t be farming for long.”
- Currently serving in the Iowa Air National Guard
- Owns and operates Red Roaming Acres in Indianola, IA
- 30 egg laying hens and does about 160 broilers. Also raises ducks.
- Website: https://www.redroamingacres.com/
- Facebook: Red Roaming Acres
Jake Hermanson has been serving in the Iowa Air National Guard for 23 years. He has always wanted to start a small first generation family farm. He became inspired and educated through his children’s 4-H club activities and the county and state level livestock competitions. He and his wife Kayla always knew that their children would benefit greatly in life from a farm based lifestyle.
“The big drive to start was the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Hermanson explains. “We started the transition from city life to farm life in October of 2018, thanks to a local Warren County farming family known as the McPherson Brothers.”
The brothers took them in as a family and allowed them to rent some farm space.
“We quickly realized we did not want to be solely dependent on large scale corporate industries for our families’ sources of grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables. During this period, we realized the demand for farm to table concepts amongst our local community will be high,” Hermanson says.
“As we explored, studied, and educated ourselves on this concept I soon realized this is just another way of serving our community just as I do serving our Nation and State in the Iowa Air National Guard. As an Intelligence Analyst since 2013, I have always studied and researched how food security for our Nation will be a high-level national security interest item, and this has certainly come to the forefront in recent years and months.”
Hermanson knew another local veteran farmer who had been supported by VFC in the past. He looked into VFC’s mission and vision as well as their overall program and was immediately intrigued by the level of support and interest in desires to serve others through farming.
In addition to becoming a certified producer to use a Homegrown by Heroes label, the FVC has supported him through education of farming programs, concepts, and incentives.
“I used FVC resources to better understand USDA Micro loan options to apply for federal government resources to assist in initial farming capital,” Hermanson says. “FVC also allows for us to see and read other veteran success stories to help posture us in the right direction with our business plan. Recently our farm Red Roaming Acres was awarded as a recipient of the 2022 Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund grant program allowing us to invest in specific farm initiatives. Our goal is to use this award to invest in our poultry business model.”
“Part of our mission and vision is to conduct Farming with Integrity. I am confident in saying that past veteran experiences contribute to quality, sound, and affordable agricultural products. Veterans also know that their consumer or customer is more important than themselves or their farm. This is a natural instinct and trait from their time in the service, to always focus on their friend or neighbor first.”
Originally published in the October/November 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.