A national organization focused on helping veterans pursue careers in agriculture has scheduled a conference in Austin, and local veterans who are farmers or interested in becoming a farmer are invited to attend.
It will be the fifth national meeting of Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC); currently more than 15,000 veteran members belong to FVC.
“It’s important that we have a gathering place for our veteran members,” explained Michael O’Gorman, founder and executive director of FVC. “Most live in rural areas and don’t get the chance to meet each other in person. This is a great way for them to come together, share ideas and dream of their next steps.”
FVC, headquartered in Davis, California, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The nonprofit organization works with the agricultural community, partners and sponsors to help returning veterans who are seeking new ways to stay in communities they left in order to serve.
“A study showed that ever increasing numbers of our military veterans came from rural areas,” said O’Gorman. “We wanted to find ways they could partner with farmers in their hometowns who could offer opportunities. We have assisted hundreds of veterans with everything from equipment, business plans, financial advice and training.”
The conference kicks off with a Texas-style dinner of Wagyu beef raised by Army Ranger Josh Eilers. “Josh is one of nearly 2,000 veteran farmers and ranchers who use the Homegrown By Heroes label to promote their product,” said O’Gorman. “We are looking forward to a real Texas barbeque.”
Josh Eilers, a cattle rancher in Austin, is one of FVC’s success stories.
There are certain things Army veteran and cattle rancher Eilers is grateful for these days: the new calves kicking and jumping in his pastures, the growth of his operation and the help he got from an organization that did a lot more than thank him for his service.
“I tell other veterans that people will thank them, but most won’t go out of their way to help in your next phase of life,” said the Purple Heart recipient, whose cattle ranching operation is located in Austin. “Farmer Veteran Coalition was different. They helped so much, and they never thought of what they could get out of it.”
Eilers started his company, Ranger Cattle, almost overnight. While in a bar, he overheard a flirtatious man trying to impress his date.
“He told her he had eaten a $100 steak. She wasn’t interested, but I was. I asked him why it was so expensive, and he told me about Wagyu beef. I put the information on my phone. That was on a Saturday. By Tuesday, I went out and bought a small herd. I didn’t have a trailer to haul them or a place to put them, but I decided if I could make so much money, I would figure it out.”
Eilers learned that Wagyu breed was prized initially in Japan where connoisseurs enjoy its unique flavor and marbled, melt-in-your-mouth texture. With its popularity on the rise throughout the world, the then 21-year old purple heart recipient was confident that, in the future, customers would go wild for his Wagyu.
“I had a lot to learn, but I wasn’t afraid to ask questions,” said the man who served three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
One of the first to help was Michael O’Gorman, founder of Farmer Veteran Coalition, a nonprofit organization that mentors veterans who want a career in agriculture.
FVC explained to Eilers that he would be eligible to receive assistance. But he had to assure the novice cattleman that it wasn’t a handout.
“I explained to him that our services are all about honoring the men and women who served our country and who want to spend the rest of their lives in agriculture, O’Gorman said. “From there, we helped him build a squeeze shoot that will be easier on his cattle and safer for his crew. He was a natural, and is one of our biggest success stories.”
FVC has helped thousands of veterans with everything from grants to equipment to one-on-one mentoring. “Some of our veterans come back from places like Afghanistan missing limbs or having other disabilities,” said O’Gorman. “They need everything from business plans to specialized equipment. Our job is to fill those needs and help them realize their dreams in places where they want to live and work. We’re happy to say that, right now, we have more than 15,000 members.”
Today Eilers has one thousand head of cattle and owns a beef company that sells all that he harvests. High-end chefs and mom and pop restaurants proudly display his company name on their menus. Pretty good for a man who knew nothing about the cattle business before he heard the story of a steak.
“It was important to me not just to have cattle ranching mentors. You need other kinds of teachers who are good business people—and good people. When you find people like Michael O’Gorman, you hold them close and treat them well. He thanked me for my service in a way I will never forget.”
Along with the help of local, state and national agricultural leadership, FVC has partnerships with Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union and National AgrAbility Project. Farm Credit and Kubota Tractor Company are sponsors of the conference.
The conference is set for November 17-20 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Austin, Texas.
For more information, visit farmvetco.org.