Program aims to get more Virginia veterans into farming
By MICHAEL BUETTNER | The Progress-Index (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 24, 2017
ETTRICK, Va. – Virginia has joined forces with a national nonprofit to launch a marketing campaign that will promote farm products that are grown in Virginia by farmers who are also military veterans.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state agriculture and veteran services officials came to Virginia State University's Randolph Farm agricultural research center on Monday to announce the new Homegrown by Heroes/Virginia Grown campaign as well as the launch of the Virginia chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
The coalition, founded in 2007 and based in Davis, Calif., seeks to help military veterans have successful careers in farming as a way of reducing unemployment, strengthening rural communities and expanding the nation's supply of locally grown agricultural products.
McAuliffe noted that the new Virginia chapter "already has 460 members. By the time I leave office, I'd like to see a couple thousand veteran farmers.
The governor applauded the university for its work in agriculture in his typical hyperbolic style, calling VSU "the greatest university in Virginia. Sorry, [Virginia] Tech people, but I'm here right now."
McAuliffe also highlighted his administration's support for agriculture as part of his overall emphasis on economic development and job-creation. He noted that he is "the most traveled governor" in part to help the state sell more of its farm products overseas. The agriculture and forestry industry is Virginia's largest industry, contributing $91 billion to the state's economy last year.
On a recent trade mission to China, McAuliffe said, "I ate some lovely chicken claws. ... I will eat or drink anything to get a deal done."
The state has also been a consistent supporter of veterans through its Department of Veterans Services. Those services are especially needed in Virginia, McAuliffe noted, because "Virginia has the fastest-growing veteran population of any state. We also have the largest number of female veterans and the largest number of under-25 veterans."
One sign of Virginia's commitment to veterans, according to McAuliffe: The department recently opened its 28th veterans services offic and is preparing to "build two new long-term care centers ... We're the first and only state that's doing that."
The new marketing campaign aims to place the Homegrown by Heroes/Virginia Grown logo in grocery stores to identify farm products that meet the criteria for the existing Virginia Grown campaign as well as new criteria for veteran-grown products. They include:
• The grower must have veteran, active duty, National Guard or Reserve member status, regardless of age or era of duty, as evidenced by a Department of Defense Form 214 or equivalent.
• Have characterization of service of Honorable or General (under Honorable conditions);
• Provide a letter of support from their commanding officer or designated representative attesting to their service under honorable conditions if they are an active-duty member;
• Maintain 50 percent or greater veteran ownership of their business or operation and 50 percent or greater veteran management control.
• Have 50 percent or more non-water ingredients produced by Homegrown by Heroes-certified producers for products certified under the label.
In addition to the marketing certification element, the new program will also provide farmer training and education, with some of the training to be provided by the new Farmer Veteran Coalition chapter."I want every grocery store in Virginia to have this sign [to tell people that the products] are not only grown in Virginia but grown by veterans," McAuliffe said. "I think people will flock to buy those products. We're the only state doing this. I don't want to hear about anyone buying California produce."
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