While sitting around gabbing with a group of young farmer veterans during a break between sessions at last weekend's Farmer Veteran Stakeholder Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, I heard a story that my long-passed farmer grandpa, himself a WWI vet, would have really enjoyed. We guffawed repeatedly as farmer-vet Mickey Clayton told of hunting down a poor sap of a poacher on her livestock farm in Oregon. "I was flashing back [to my combat experience] and my training totally kicked in," she said, "and that silly bastard ended up cowering in fear and begging me not to shoot him. I had to snap out of it and remember I was a civilian now. But I'll bet that dude doesn't come poaching my sheep again!"
Mickey, an Army mechanic who survived catastrophic injuries while serving in Iraq and then struggled for years with the Veterans Administration before finally receiving full disability benefits and buying her dream farm, was one of dozens of established, beginning or aspiring veteran farmers on hand for the conference. A single mother who walks with a cane and wears a heavy knee brace, Mickey is sole proprietor of Dot Ranch in Oregon, where she raises rare and valuable Navaho Churro sheep as well as ducks, chickens and cattle.
Here is Mickey with fellow veteran-farmers Kevin Lanzi and Mike Lewis and me. You can read their stories here. Mike and Kevin are old pals of Farm Aid, having represented the Farmer Veteran Coalition in our HOMEGROWN Village every year since the FVC inception in 2008 and attended our national Farm Advocate Meeting in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 2012. I want to give a personal shout-out to these two guys because they are committed to serving as farm advocates and mentors for other returning vets. Mike is founder and director of the non-profit Growing Warriors Project, whose mission statement makes clear that these veteran-farmers remain wholly committed to a life of service: "to equip, assist and train our military veterans with the skills they need to produce high quality organically grown produce for their families and communities."
It is deeply gratifying to get to know and work with these and other veteran-farmer men and women. As a culture we are only beginning to learn the hard truths about individual human beings transitioning from fighting to defend the homeland to turning the earth to nurture the homeland and ourselves. Trading in weapons for plows is giving some shattered vets a new chance at a life of peace. Farm Aid is proud to support the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and out hat's off as to the Drake University's Agricultural Law Center and Law School for co-hosting this unprecedented event.
Mickey Clayton, holding the microphone, along with four other farmer veterans and (on far left) FVC executive director Michael O'Gorman during a conference session titled, "Adapt and Overcome: Military Lessons for New Farmers." On Mickey's left is Wisconsin farmer-veteran Chris Hollman, who first connected with the Farmer Veteran Coalition in the HOMEGROWN Village at the Milwaukee Farm Aid concert in 2010.
North Carolina farmer veteran Robert Elliot (middle, read our Farmer Hero profile of him here) with RAFI-USA's Scott Marlow (left) and FVC's Michael O'Gorman. Robert's farm was included among the farm tours we organized for Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh.
Conference keynote speaker USDA Deputy Secretary Krista Harden displays a WWII era government poster promoting farming as a viable profession for vets following the war. During her talk Harden introduced Karis Gutteer as the USDA's first Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison, who will provide info, resources and support for active duty military and veterans interested in agriculture.