Produce will start looking patriotic if U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has his way. In a conference call today, he praised Kentucky's Homegrown by Heroes branding campaign, which could soon be in all fifty states. Red, white, and blue labels help shoppers know when food has been grown by farmers who previously served our country in the military. Farming provides a way for veterans to continue serving their country through meaningful work.
Secretary Vilsack urged Congress to expedite work on the Farm Bill to support programs for veterans who want to return to their rural roots. Programs include microloans to farmers, support for farmers' markets and food hubs where their harvests can be sold, and education to help reduce risks. For example, Michael O'Gorman, Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, said the coalition held its second annual Conference for Women Veterans in Agriculture last weekend. Other programs help wounded veterans find therapeutic value in agricultural work.
Most veterans in the program are growing "almost exclusively vegetables," including broccoli and kale. The Secretary predicts that most veterans will go into small scale, high value crops rather than commodities, especially if they didn't come from farming families.
When I asked if they were seeing participants focus on organic and sustainable techniques, Secretary Vilsack replied that these methods added value to crops that could help veterans earn good incomes from farming. He said that veterans, like other farmers, could take advantage of other USDA programs that help sustainable and organic farmers. But the USDA wants to help all veterans interested in agriculture succeed, emphasized O'Gorman, whether or not their farms are organic. O'Gorman mentioned that he had been an organic farmer for over forty years, but welcomes farmers with all types of interests.
I look forward to seeing more farms run by veterans who have come back home and to picking up some flag-waving peppers at the market.
Would you make a special effort to buy food raised by veterans? Are you a veteran who farms or who would like to? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.