As George Washington would gladly point out this Memorial Day, the roots of American agriculture are intertwined with the Republic itself. And from the Revolutionary War onward, rural America proudly contributed a large share of its children to the military service. With that mission in mind, the Farmer Veteran Coalition was born.
In October 2017, four U.S. military veterans who farm were each awarded a new Kubota tractor in recognition of their service and dedication to the country — both in the martial and agricultural sense. The multi-faceted program not only provides a patriotic boost for those who have served America but also helps carry forward the tradition of farming to another generation.
Randy Ramberger, a 31-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, said Ramberger Family Farms wouldn’t exist without his family, specifically his three daughters.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” he said.
Another member of the group, Matt Fitzwater, a 37-year-old U.S. Army veteran who also served in Afghanistan and now operates Rainbow Harvest Farm, said his two sons are still a little young for field work, but they do love the berries he’s growing much easier with the help of the equipment.
Farmer Veteran Coalition
A number of studies confirm what history books tell, that rural America provides a disproportionate share of troops to the military, and in turn, bears a greater burden in terms of wounded warriors. With that in mind, West Coast farmer Michael O’Gorman first organized a meeting of veterans and their families in May of 2007 with the idea of helping returning troops find jobs in agriculture. In meeting with the group, ideas quickly bloomed, and within a year, O’Gorman decided to retire from his 40-year career overseeing 1,600 acres of tomato production in California and Mexico and launch the Farmer Veteran Coalition full-force. Partnerships were established with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit Council, and the National Farmers Union, and he was instrumental in the Agricultural Act of 2014, including the creation of a new Military Agricultural Liaison.
By 2015, FVC had a total number of 4,500 veteran members, with 72 percent having post 9/11 service, 20 percent ethnic minorities, 16 percent female, and 59 percent with service-connected disabilities. Today, the FVC features programs ranging from the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund and Homegrown by Heroes to financing programs for new and current farmers. The FVC has chapters in Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Fitzwater said the new tractor he received as part of the joint venture between the FVC and Kubota will make the difference as he leaps out of that “tweener” stage between a small- and mid-size operation. The veteran of three deployments is in his third season owning a 10-acre berry operation in Kentucky and said the family had been mulching the fields with a wheelbarrow and shovel.
“Right now, we have between 2,000 and 2,200 bushes,” he said of the blueberries and blackberries there. “When we purchased the farm, we underestimated the work involved,” he said with a chuckle, noting his two young sons, ages 2 and 4, aren’t as ready for shoveling as they are for eating berries.
Purchasing a new tractor was simply out of the budget for a startup, he explained. But thanks to the FVC and Kubota, his new tractor and its front-end loader and pull-behind mower and spreader are making a huge difference. Just in its third season, Rainbow Harvest Farm is already contracted for production with the area public school system, providing fresh and frozen produce to the district’s children there. The farm also offers u-pick and direct sell and hopes to grow in coming years.
“Having a tractor that can haul our mulch spreader means so much time-wise, and it has really maximized our efficiency,” he said.
Ramberger, a Greentown, Indiana, farmer, also said his tractor is making a big difference.
“Everything is good so far. It’s definitely saved my back during the winter,” he said, explaining that he broke his back and hip in Afghanistan in 2014.
Ramberger is also a father, with three daughters, ages 19, 11, and 7. Now, with the help of the tractor and accompanying tiller, he’ll be expanding his produce operation and holding of cattle, pigs, and chickens.
Remembering his grandmother’s farm as a child, he said the farming lifestyle is an enjoyment. “It definitely gives you purpose,” he said.
Veterans looking for new career opportunities in agriculture, whether as startups or as expansions of a family farm, would be wise to give the FVC a look as the organization continues to expand its partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government departments. The Kubota “Geared to Give” program is one of many emerging partnerships helping warriors return to the farm in a tradition reaching back to the olden days.
George Washington would be proud.
This article was published on behalf of Kubota.