INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Department of Agriculture is launching a new effort to support veterans who farm.
Gov. Mike Pence announced Monday that Indiana has joined 42 other states included in the “Homegrown by Heroes” program of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. It gives eligible veterans and active-duty National Guard members the right to use a special logo for their marketing and products. The program is mostly being paid for with $50,000 in grants from Farm Credit Mid-America.
The program is aimed at raising visibility for veteran farmers. It’s also seen as a way to address the state’s unemployment rate among veterans, which continues to be above the national average.
Nationwide, nearly half of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan hail from rural counties. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only about two percent of them work in agriculture.
Several programs have sprung up in recent years to help veterans make their way into the profession. And the 2014 reauthorization of the Farm Bill designated a distinct class of beginning farmers, giving them access to low-interest loans and other support, such as grants or payments to implement conservation programs on their land.
Sara Creech was a surgery nurse during the Iraq War, but she says post-traumatic stress disorder forced her out the profession when she got back home. Depression and anxiety, she said in an NPR story last year, made her feel that she was a danger to her patients.
"I couldn't work," she told a Harvest Public Media reporter. "I couldn't do my job. It was devastating."
Creech now raises chickens and fruit trees on her Blue Yonder Organic Farm, 43 acres near North Salem, Ind.
She was the first Hoosier farmer to enroll in the national "Homegrown By Heroes" program – well before the Indiana Department of Agriculture signed on. She says it's opened the doors for a lot of conversations with her customers.
"By putting on the logo of 'Homegrown By Heroes,' you literally are putting your story out there, saying ‘listen, I’m a veteran, I’ve served this country and now I’m continuing that service by growing this healthy food for my community," Creech said Monday.
So far, seven Indiana farmers have earned the certification.
The Homegrown by Heroes program includes 250 members in 43 states.