By Debbie Gregory.
In November, 2006, William O’Hare and Bill Bishop of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute published a report showing that “rural families are paying a disproportionately high price for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Michael O’Gorman was farming in Mexico at the time, overseeing 1,600 acres of organic tomatoes, peas, basil and other fresh market produce. But he had a long history of farming in California and knew many other growers there. O’Gorman organized a gathering for farmers in California’s Central Coast to talk about creating jobs on their farms for returning veterans.
From that gathering came the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a non-profit based in Davis, CA. So far, the coalition has given out $1.2 million in grants to veterans who want to start farms.
Among those supporting the coalition’s efforts are the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Prairie Grove Farms, Farm Credit Counsel, Prudential Financial and Kubota Tractor Corporation.
O’Gorman felt that his personal journey, of going into agriculture with no money, land or education nearly forty years earlier, and becoming one of the country’s most prolific organic farmers, could help a new generation of new farmers.
“When I read the Carsey study, there was something magnetic about the idea of getting veterans on the farm,” said O’Gorman. “Just short of 40 years in my career path, I decided to do something different.”
In 2009, O’Gorman received substantial funding from the Iraq and Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, which he said “was handling the nation’s largest private donation made on behalf of American veterans.
“They vetted 50 groups and distributed most of the money the year prior, but when they heard about FVC, the leaders recognized the unique program we had to offer veterans, and we became the 51st group to receive funding.”
The coalition’s vision of the future is an organization that will be around for decades, in every state, continuing to unite the agricultural sector: government, education, private industry, conventional and alternative farming and the veterans themselves.