Farmers’ and ranchers’ sons and daughters and many others from rural America have answered the call to military service throughout the 200-plus year history of this country. Now, farmers and ranchers are serving them. Through the Farm Bureau Patriot Project, Farm Bureau members are mentoring military veterans who are getting started in agriculture. The program was piloted in Arkansas and Texas in 2016 and is available as a program option to all state Farm Bureaus.
“Many people don’t realize that 44% of military personnel come from rural communities,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall recently noted.
Farming and ranching are a natural fit for those who have served in the military, according to veteran Damon Helton, an Arkansas Farm Bureau member and Patriot Project mentee.
“We’re predisposed, coming out of the military, for all the things that being a farmer requires: long hours, early mornings, very strenuous dirty work. We’re searching for service that we’ve lost when we get out, so agriculture is just an amazing fit for that, because that’s truly what it is, it’s service to our nation,” said Helton, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 2001 and completed five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Duvall, too, emphasized how military service prepares future farmers.
“The men and women who worked so hard to defend our national security are fully equipped to ensure our food security. Our military veterans come back home to their communities equipped with discipline, determination and the willpower to do very difficult things. And farming is a difficult occupation,” Duvall said.
The Patriot Project helps veterans make that transition from one very challenging profession to another. Helton found the business guidance his farmer mentor provided to be particularly helpful.
“I was very serious about it being a business model. I wanted to succeed and grow and feed my community. But in order to do that you have to treat it like a business. You have to understand what your input costs are, and you have to understand your margins, and you grow and you’re going to need employees. And so, I really learned how to run my farm like a true business,” Helton said.
In addition to the Patriot Project, Farm Bureau supports veterans’ involvement in agriculture through its partnership with the Farmer Veteran Coalition. FVC is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization assisting veterans and active duty members of the U.S. armed forces embark on careers in agriculture.
“Farm Bureau is historically one of FVC’s strongest supporters,” said newly appointed FVC Executive Director Jeanette Lombardo. “We value this partnership that allows us to jointly help our veterans and their families transition into agriculture. We’re equally excited about the Farm Bureau Patriot Project and the future farmer veterans we will support.”