Images of elderly, decorated World War II veterans or tough, Harley-riding Vietnam vets are Veterans Day visions that have been burned into our psyches by decades of photos commemorating the holiday. Without seeing torn fatigues dusted in desert sands, spotting the new generation of veterans in a crowd is much more challenging. Men and women who have served in the post 9-11 global war on terror tend to look like most other American twenty-somethings. And like a growing number of civilians, they are opting out of integrating into the mainstream and heading to farms to grow America's food.
One such farmer is Matt McCue. An Army veteran who served a year in Iraq, McCue first felt an interest in farming when admiring gardens in the Middle East. Now running Shooting Star CSA near Fairfield with partner Lily Schneider, McCue attributes his success to his time spent in Sonoma County. "I learned how to farm there and had so much support from the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), CSAs in Petaluma and the French Garden in Sebastopol, where I was taught so much," he says.
Farmer Veteran Coalition provides many new farmer-veterans with opportunities to dig in the dirt. Formerly known as Farms Not Arms, FVC serves as a connection between farms and veterans seeking employment, training and a place to heal from the catastrophic effects of being in combat. According to FVC executive director Michael O'Gorman, the majority of veterans seeking careers in agriculture are from farms themselves. Others find themselves working with FVC for different reasons. "Some of our veterans saw a lot of combat and are having a difficult time readjusting," O'Gorman says. "They are looking for a way to heal from their experiences and find farming a good way to do this while transitioning back into working."
The number of veterans in the FVC program has grown in the last year from six participants to nearly a hundred. Of those, O'Gorman says that nearly one-fourth are active-duty service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, who write to VFW with plans of starting their own farms when they return home. And it's not just men. "More and more female veterans are becoming interested in our programs, and we even have couples who have been deployed together who are working toward creating farms," O'Gorman says.
"Our country needs farmers, and veterans need meaningful work," he continues. "And not having an agenda other than growing food has helped so many veterans come together and heal from the war."
The program has certainly worked for McCue. "Farming is about people," he says. "The soil and plants don't care where you're from. It just feels great!"
FVC sponsors "Tanks to Tractors" to honor Veterans Day with speakers, light food and drinks on Sunday, Nov. 8, at Toby's Feed Barn, 11250 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station. 5pm. Free. 707.765.0196