A strong bond between farmers and veterans continues to grow through challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic.
New and existing programs help veterans connect with farmers looking for labor or market their own farm products.
The pandemic made the tight labor pool for farmers even tighter. It also made opportunities for veterans dwindle.
Farm Corps, a partnership of Illinois organizations and agriculture entities, was created to bridge the labor gap by pairing furloughed or laid-off veterans with Illinois farmers who need labor.
In 2020, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, joined the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois, Illinois Farm Bureau and Illinois AgrAbility to create the Farm Corps to connect farmers and veterans.
“It’s like Craigslist,” said Raghela Scavuzzo, who represents the Illinois Farm Bureau on the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois.
Farmers post their jobs, and veterans can sign up to get notices when new jobs pop up. Find more information online at illinoisfarmerveterans.org
While this project started in Illinois, the American Farm Bureau and the national Farmer Veteran Coalition work on many projects to serve both farmers and veterans across the country, Scavuzzo said.
“The organization is grassroots where veterans drive the services,” she said. Services often center around training, workshops and networking.
Homegrown by Heroes
Homegrown by Heroes allows ranchers, fishermen and producers who have served or are still serving in any branch of the U.S. military to use a special logo on the agricultural products they sell to the public.
This designation sets these farmers apart in the market. This program also provides training and education; develops mentorships between experienced farmers and veterans; identifies land access; locates farmers market opportunities and partnerships; assists veterans in developing value-added products; and fosters relationships with retailers and food service organizations.
Networking is a key aspect of all the veteran and farmer programs, Scavuzzo said.