Article by Jessica Mozo, farmflavor.com
Have you thanked a veteran lately? Thanks to Kentucky’s own Homegrown by Heroes program, it can be as easy as buying fruits and vegetables.
Homegrown by Heroes, a Kentucky Proud program launched in 2013, allows Kentucky farmers who have served in the military to label their agriculture products with the branded logo to signify a veteran produced the product. You can find the logos on products from grocery shelves to farmers markets across Kentucky.
“This label makes it easier than ever to thank a veteran,” says Mike Lewis, a Kentucky veteran farmer. “All you have to do is buy their food. That’s a big enough thank-you because you’re supporting a veteran’s farm.”
Lewis grows more than 30 varieties of vegetables in Madison and Rockcastle counties and served from 1992 to 1996 in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment in Washington, D.C.
“We all wave our flags on Veteran’s Day – now let’s put our food dollars where our hearts are,” Lewis says.
According to the White House, 44 percent of veterans nationwide come from rural farming communities, and upon returning home from service, they often find themselves unemployed. Homegrown by Heroes is helping change that by encouraging veterans to realize successful careers in agriculture.
For Lewis, Homegrown by Heroes was the catalyst that prompted him to start his own business.
“Before, I had always managed CSAs on other people’s farms, and Homegrown by Heroes gave me confidence to step out and start my own farm,” he says. “I’m a small-scale producer in a marketplace that’s built for large-scale producers, and I used to feel like I was getting beat up on the price of something. Now when I talk to buyers, the Homegrown by Heroes label helps me create a personal relationship with them, and they don’t mind paying a little more. I’m finally able to focus on building a farm for my 2-year-old son to take over someday.”
Vietnam veteran Danny Ray Townsend is a fifth-generation producer of sweet sorghum at Townsend Sorghum Mill in Jeffersonville and believes the Homegrown by Heroes label will help increase his sales. Townsend also sells apple butter and produce.
“I love the idea of it, and I’m so glad someone is doing something for the Vietnam veterans because it wasn’t a popular thing to be back then,” says Townsend, who served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. “When we came home, we were told to get out of our uniforms or we’d get eggs thrown at us. I don’t consider myself a hero, but I did serve in a combat zone. If people want to recognize me, then buying my product is a great way to do it.”
Homegrown by Heroes already has more than 40 veteran farmer members, and in 2014, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture plans to partner with the California-based Farmer Veteran Coalition to make it a nationwide effort.
“We want farmers to be able to differentiate their products in the marketplace, and we hope Homegrown by Heroes spurs a new generation of farmers,” says Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. “We hope young vets who are exiting the military will see agriculture as a meaningful career they can pour themselves into.”
Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition Michael O’Gorman says it’s important to recognize veteran farmers for taking on two of the most challenging careers – the military and agriculture. And not only does agriculture help veterans earn a living, it also has healing properties.
“There’s something really attractive about having farming to come home to. It’s natural healing for the mind and soul,” O’Gorman says. “A lot of that healing also has to do with finding a sense of purpose. You could have sustained a brain injury or physical trauma, but you can find a new reason to wake up every day. That’s the magic of it.”