About 45 percent of America’s military personnel come from our rural communities, yet coming back home to farm can be a challenge. That’s where the Farmer Veteran Coalition steps in to offer funding, advice and more.
A cornerstone project of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is Homegrown By Heroes, a labeling program that enables veterans to identify their products as veteran grown. Farm Credit provided financial support in 2014 for a national launch of Homegrown by Heroes.
This year, FCSAmerica sponsored three veterans on a trip to Washington D.C., where they joined 37 other farmer veterans in meetings with congressional representatives to raise awareness of the labeling program. The veterans sponsored by FCSAmerica included Kyle Cox of South Dakota, Dan Hromas of Nebraska and Jason Kerr of Iowa.
Some of their stories, along with those of others in the Homegrown By Heroes labeling program, are featured on Farmer Veteran Coalition. In honor of our Veterans Day, we have excerpted some of the stories from farmer veterans in our territory:
Garrett Dwyer, Bartlett, Nebraska: Garrett joined the Marines after high school and served for 4 years, including a deployment in support of OIF. After Garrett’s military service, he earned a degree in Agricultural Production and returned home to begin to take over his father’s ranch. During Garrett’s first year, he experienced some bumps in the road and had to sell off some of his herd. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it forced him to start smaller and slowly increase the size of his herd. Today, Garrett runs 130-140 head of cattle (Hereford Heifers), which he breeds with Angus bulls.
Will Fellers, Lexington, Nebraska: Throughout Will’s deployment to Iraq, he missed the green pastures of his home. He returned to Nebraska in the spring of 2005, resumed working on the family farm, and began attending classes. Slowly, opportunities to rent farm land became available, and with help of friends and family, Will was able to establish his own farm venture. Today, Will grows corn and soybeans on 500 acres of leased land.
Dan Hromas, Grand Island, Nebraska: Dan’s motto is “happy hens lay healthy eggs.” He started this farm, Prairie Poultry Pride, simply because he loved chickens. “I’ve been around agriculture all my life, and one of my fondest memories was visiting Grandpa and Grandma’s farm in North Dakota as a child, where they had chickens and it felt like an Easter egg hunt every day.” Dan wants his fellow veterans to know that they can find purpose in life after the military, whether it be in agriculture or another field.
Sonia Kendrick, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, Sonia founded Feed Iowa First, a non-profit with the mission of feeding the hungry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She began by growing vegetables on donated church property supplying food banks and homeless shelters with fresh produce. In 2013 she expanded the operation to include a network of gardens and volunteers including plots at Rockwell Collins, GE Capital and 3 more churches. All of the food grown on these plots goes to Horizons Meals on Wheels
Jason Kerr, DeWitt, Iowa: The 9/11 attacks struck a deeply emotional chord with Jason, and he felt a strong need to help. In 2003, he joined the Army and was deployed as a machine gunner and Route Reconnaissance and Patrol & Convoy Security. He remained at war for 16 1/2 months, and sustained serious injuries. Needing an even greater challenge with productive work that would allow him to see the fruits of his labor, he opted to return to farming. He decided to grow blueberries, a more difficult crop for the area. This provides him focus on the task at hand, and tremendous emotional healing.
Join us in thanking our farmer veterans for their service to America – in both combat and farm fields.