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Grants support veterans in agriculture

Photos courtesy of Keeton family Pamela and Doug Keeton.
BRANCHING OUT: Pamela Keeton, who retired from the Army, and her husband, Doug, also an Army veteran, received one of 130 farmer-veteran grants awarded by the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
Farmer Veteran Coalition awards $470,000 in direct assistance to producers.

Retired Army officer Pamela Keeton of Easton, Md., recently quit her job with county government to focus full time on her farm, Maxmore Creek Flowers.

“It suffocates me to work in an office. … My property and flowers bring me joy,” she said in her application to the Farmer Veteran Coalition, while applying for a 2022 Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund grant. To advance her farm, which grows and sells cut flowers to both wholesale and retail, she needs a greenhouse and a garage with a shop.

She and her husband, Doug, also an Army veteran, were one of more than 130 farmer-veterans representing 41 states and all branches of service — with the exception of the Space Force — selected to receive an award ($1,000-$5,000) to buy things such as beekeeping equipment, fencing, livestock, tractor implements, walk-behind tractors and other supplies.

In total, FVC awarded $470,000 in direct assistance for crucial equipment to advance veterans in the agriculture industry. It is the largest amount awarded in the program’s 12-year history.

“As the demand for the fellowship fund continues to grow within the farmer-veteran community, so has the support from our sponsors,” says Rachel Petitt, FVC’s program director for the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. “At a time when farming is becoming increasingly challenging for farmer-veterans and the agriculture industry as a whole, we have been fortunate to build upon the relationships with our current sponsors while also adding new ones to provide this much-needed assistance to farmer-veterans.”

Keeton’s award of $4,000 will help offset the $25,000 improvement project she hopes will increase her flower farm by one-third and double sales this year. She also plans to branch into vegetable production.

sunflowers or other flowers in wagon

A bucket of flowers from Maxmore Creek Flowers is seen in Easton, Md.

The grants are awarded annually, and the application cycle generally opens in January. Applications are judged based on the strength of a veteran’s business plan, personal investment in their business, vision and goals, and a clear need for assistance.

Veterans who submitted an application to the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund had the option to apply for Kubota’s Geared to Give program, which donates five pieces of equipment and grants to FVC members each year — awardees were yet to be announced. The Geared to Give program has provided 41 pieces of equipment and grants to Farmer Veteran Coalition members since it was established in 2015.

Retired Marine Michael O’Farrell of West Branch, Mich., farms just over 60 acres, producing fresh strawberries, raspberries, assorted vegetables, lamb and pork on O’Farrell Farms. They also make jam out of their fruit and Christmas décor from fresh evergreens.

He was awarded a $4,000 grant to buy fencing for a 1.5-acre section that is not farmable by modern machinery.  “It would allow the sheep [30 ewes] with their guard dog to graze,” O’Farrell said in his application. “This would also change the natural deer flow on our property and help keep the deer away from the strawberries, which is one of the top reasons many in our area have failed in developing a strawberry U-pick.”

Longer term, O’Farrell wants to build 32-foot-by-60-foot farm workshop and storefront with a commercial kitchen.

Making an impact

“One of the great joys of managing the fellowship fund is connecting with each of the veterans and seeing the impact an award can have on their operation,” Petitt says. “I’m always amazed by the messages of gratitude we receive from farmer-veterans throughout the year, telling us what the award meant for their farm and family.”

As a past recipient of a FVC grant, Ben Misko of Restless Roots in central Pennsylvania writes in a testimonial, “Having a brain injury can be very frustrating at times, but animals provide a reprieve for me. Farming keeps me sound in my mind, and the animal and plant care keeps me on schedule. I asked for this equipment so I can provide for more animals without additional financial burden. I am grateful for FVC, and this grant as a way to make my long-term goals come true.”

To see the full list of awardees, visit farmvetco.org/2022-awardees.

Maxmore Creek Flowers farm in early spring

The Maxmore Creek Flowers farm is seen in early spring. This year, the Keetons added one-third more bed space. It is considered a microfarm because it is less than a quarter of an acre.

Major funding for this year’s program was provided by Wounded Warrior Project, Kubota Tractor Corp., Tractor Supply, and Northwest Farm Credit Services. Additional funding and support was provided by Homestead Implements, Farm Credit West, Lamps Plus, Sugar Bottom Farm, Unearth Campaigns, Vital Farms, and G&R Farms/Military Produce Group.

Since it was established, the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund has awarded nearly $4 million in small grants and equipment to more than 930 veterans. To learn more about the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, visit farmvetco.org/fvfellowship.

“We’re always looking ahead to how we can assist even more farmer-veterans next year,” Pettit says. “Anyone interested in supporting the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund can reach out to me directly at rachel@farmvetco.org.”

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