Access to start-up capital is a big challenge for farmers. A small grant program through the Farmer Veteran Coalition is helping in a major way. More than 100 farmer veterans received the news that they are being awarded equipment thanks to the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. The grant supports veterans in their early years of farming and ranching.
“We directly purchase a piece of equipment the farmer has identified as being critical,” explains Jeanette Lombardo, FVC Executive Director. “Our veterans put their lives on the line to protect us. It’s an honor to help them grow their operations so they can continue to feed their communities.”
Over 11 years, this funding has been the difference maker for farmers. More than 700 veterans have benefitted with $3.5 million in equipment distributed. That’s 600 individual stories FVC has been able to tell already, with 100 more to share on the near horizon.
The 2021 class of Fellows includes:
- Representation in nearly 40 states — from Alaska to Maine, and even Guam
- 47 females, doubling the percentage of women awardees as compared to prior years
- Nine awardees who have spouses who also served in the military
- 52 percent Army, 18 percent Marines, 17 percent Air Force, 11 percent Navy, 2 percent Coast Guard
Equipment will soon be delivered to farms — starting now and into the summer. Grantees anxiously await greenhouses and grow tents, walk-in coolers and cold storage units, milking systems, water filtrations, and honey extractors. Other unique requests include a mushroom substrate steamer and a lavender bud stripper.
“It’s Christmas week at FVC and we’ve all been so busy wrapping the presents,” said Rachel Petitt, who has managed the Fellowship program for seven years. “Now we start loading them into Santa’s sleigh.”
Veterans Helping Veterans
Funding is made possible by Kubota Tractor Corporation, Tractor Supply Company, Wounded Warrior Project, Farm Credit, Tarter USA, Homestead Implements, Vital Farms, and even directly from other farmer veteran members.
This year FVC is humbled to see support come full circle, with two prior Fellows funding awardees. Eric Grandon of Sugar Bottom Farm in West Virginia got a grant for a 50 cubic foot refrigerator in 2015 to store the Romaine lettuce he delivered to local schools. Now he supports 5 beekeepers with equipment. Anthony Barreras, a 21-year Army veteran, operates Barreras Family Farm in Nebraska where his 2019 grant allowed construction of his poultry barn. He is funding a fellow in his same state.
And Julie Hollars — who famously exclaimed that “most girls want diamonds, all I want is a tractor!” when she was awarded a Kubota through the Geared to Give program in 2016 — also pledged her support via donation.
Some of this year’s grantees have been mentored by other farmer veterans throughout their career. Many intend to hire veterans as they expand their own businesses. A few will purchase their piece of equipment from another FVC member, in essence doubling the impact within the community.
“The need in our rural communities is great,” acknowledges Lombardo. “We are inspired by the members who applied. This year it was difficult to select finalists; we understand the impact the grants make on peoples’ lives. This furthers our commitment to secure more funds for the next round.”
Her words come on the heels of the single largest day of new membership the organization has ever seen. Last week, after the Office of Veterans Affairs shared news of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, 1,300 new members signed-up in 24 hours. “It probably took 3 years to get what we have had these last few days,” marvels FVC Founder Michael O’Gorman.
Now these 128 Fellowship recipients persevere on their mission of serving our country a second time — by feeding it — with the added help of new capital.
You can view the full list of 2021 awardees here. The five ‘Geared to Give’ Kubota tractor Fellowships will be announced later this month.