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Promotion of veteran-raised ag goods goes national

Nov. 11, 2013 - 05:43PM   |  
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LOUISVILLE, KY. — A Kentucky-based promotional campaign featuring a special logo for farm goods produced by military veterans is spreading nationally, with the goal of making the brand a household name and boosting income for ex-service members looking to make a living off the land.

James Comer, Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner, said Monday the California-based Farmer Veteran Coalition has volunteered to run the Homegrown by Heroes program across the country. The branding program got its start last January in Kentucky. Comer said the state’s agriculture department will share its logo for the program — showing a saluting service member with the American flag in the background — for the national initiative.

The program is seen as an incentive for consumers to buy veteran-produced farm products and for retailers to stock them.

Comer predicted consumers will be willing to “pay a premium” for the products.

“And that’s the way we’re going to help these military veterans, by helping them add as much value to what they produce as possible,” he said at a Veterans Day event in downtown Louisville to announce expansion of the program.

To back the initiative, the Farm Credit System announced a $250,000 commitment to help extend the program’s reach. The contribution was the result of support from Agribank of St. Paul, Minn.; AgFirst of Columbia, S.C.; CoBank of Denver and Farm Credit Bank of Texas, based in Austin, according to Comer’s office.

Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, said the goal is to make the Homegrown by Heroes brand recognizable in stores across the country.

In the coming years, he said, he hopes “anybody can go into a market of any size and pull something off the shelf and say, ‘That was grown by a military veteran.’”

“We really feel like it’s going to be a tremendous help to the farming careers of the men and women we’ve been working with,” he added.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition, based in Davis, Calif., helps veterans start careers in agriculture.

Michael Lewis, an Army veteran who farms in central Kentucky, said the Homegrown by Heroes program has already paid off for his business.

“It’s been a tremendous boost to our farm sales,” he said. “We can’t keep up with demand. It’s a good problem to have.”

For the past few months, the military-themed logo has been stamped on the vegetables, pork and poultry produced on his Madison County farm.

Before the branding campaign, he had to “fight and look” for markets, he said. Now he’s landing new customers and expanding his operations by leasing more land.

He said the logo can provide a financial windfall for more farmers.

“It provides a simple opportunity for every American consumer to thank a veteran by eating well and buying locally,” he said.

Comer estimated there are thousands of ex-military members now working in agriculture in Kentucky. The program also is geared to veteran-owned small businesses that produce farm goods. The program’s backers said a large percentage of veterans return home to rural areas across the country looking to start the next phase of their lives.

The initiative drew bipartisan support from two prominent Kentucky Republicans, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr; and a pair of top Democrats, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

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