Military veterans in Kansas who want to go into agriculture are being supported by the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
Started in 2007, the Farmer Veteran Coalition is an organization that educates and assists veterans who want to grow crops or raise livestock.
Donn Teske serves on the national board of directors for the Farmer Veteran Coalition and is the president of the Kansas Farmers Union, which has its main office in McPherson.
Teske started the Kansas chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
“It’s the real deal. It’s an organization that is there for the right reasons and the right mission,” Teske said.
Many of the Farmer Veteran Coalition members are looking to take on a small operation rather than a large industrial farm, which requires a lot of investment up front.
“Generally, what you’re seeing when people come to the Farmer Veteran Coalition are people taking advantage of niche opportunities,” Teske said.
Teske co-hosted a series of educational farm tours in northeast Kansas last year, giving veterans a chance to interact with and learn from experienced farmers and ranchers, several of whom are veterans themselves.
“We saw everything from honey to blueberries to milking sheep,” Teske said.
Some veterans take up agricultural pursuits as a way to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A lot of the veterans who are coming back to agriculture are doing it more for therapy than for a living,” Teske said.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition also aids veterans through the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, a small grant program that gives direct assistance to those who are in the early stages of launching their farming operations. Between $1,000 and $5,000 is awarded to make purchases from third parties on behalf of the veteran for items such as breeding livestock, used tractors, greenhouses and irrigation systems.
The “Geared to Give” program provides donated Kubota equipment to Farmer Veteran Coalition members. Each quarter, one farmer veteran in one of each of four geographical regions of the country is selected to receive a Kubota L-Series compact tractor.
More than 600 farms in the Farmer Veteran Coalition attach the “Homegrown by Heroes” label to their products.
“If you see a product for sale with that label on it, that’s registered through the national Farmer Veteran Coalition,” Teske explained.
As of 2016, the Farmer Veteran Coalition had more than 10,000 members. Of those members, 85 percent were male and 15 percent were female. Army veterans made up the majority — 54 percent — of the members, while 15 percent were Navy veterans, an additional 15 percent were Air Force veterans, 14 percent were Marine veterans and two percent were Coast Guard veterans. More than half of the Farmer Veteran Coalition members had a service-connected disability.
“The veterans that get involved in it become very loyal to the organization,” Teske said.
For more information about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, visit http://www.farmvetco.org.