These Farmer-Veterans are Growing Peace

Every year, as our holiday thank-you to our clients, the Bon Appétit Management Company makes a donation on their behalf to a food-related nonprofit. Last year, it was Wholesome Wave, which helps bring healthful, locally grown fruits and vegetables to low-income families. This year’s partner is the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, which assists recent military veterans in using their many relevant skills to become a new generation of young farmers.

We chose the Farmer-Veteran Coalition because it is working to fill two very urgent needs. At the end of this month, all American troops will have been withdrawn from Iraq. They and other U.S. military veterans are returning home to an already tough job market, and as NPR recently reported, they often have a tougher time finding employment than civilians. And although you won’t see ads on Craigslist for farmers, America has a  critical shortage of them: almost one-third of U.S. farmers are nearing retirement age.

FVC helps veterans start their businesses, buy land, and overcome disabilities —and in so doing, helps build our green economy, rebuild our rural communities, and secure a safe and healthy food supply for all.

“America desperately needs more farmers,” said Bon Appétit Management Company CEO Fedele Bauccio. “We are proud to support these men and women who, having already served their country once, are willing to do so again.”

The FVC has been kind enough to share some of the stories of the recipients of the grant with us. The veterans listed below have each been awarded a Bon Appétit Good Food Fellowship, with more to come. We at Bon Appétit are honored to be able to support the farming dreams of these incredible people, and we hope you will join us by making a donation to FVC or to one of these dozen or so worthy food-related organizations that Mark Bittman listed in his New York Times column yesterday. Their work will nourish this country far more than most storebought presents.

Drew Wood (above), an Air Force veteran who served in Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, and Kosovo, now runs a free-range poultry farm in Berryville, AK, with his fiancée, Katie. At Shady Grove Farm, they raise many kinds of poultry and concentrate on “old fashioned” or heritage breeds. Their chickens, turkeys and ducks roam all over Shady Grove, foraging and living a healthy, natural life. The fellowship funds have helped them purchase poultry-raising and processing equipment that has already increased their productivity and sales.

After being discharged from the Navy due to an injury rendering her disabled, Vonita Murray (above) now owns and operates Mariposa Valley Farm in Woodland, CA, where she grows a mix of summer, and soon winter, vegetables. So far, she has a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that she plans to expand to 50 people.

Phillip Northcutt (above), a former Infantry Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and combat-injured veteran of the war in Iraq, has returned to his roots of working with horses and farming. He credits his many hours with the horses in helping him process his memories of war. He’s been able to purchase a flock of sheep, equipment for his horses, and a livestock trailer.

Matt Soldano (above) suffered a traumatic brain injury from his Marine Corps tour of duty in Iraq and then severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I did not think I would ever be able to find a job in the civilian world that could suit my needs,” he says. The FVC helped Matt start his Southtown Farms LLC chicken farm in Mahwah, NJ, in 2010, and his Good Food Fellowship will be used for a chicken coop, an environmental shelter, and a refurbished tractor.

Kelly Carlisle (above, second from left) served with the US Navy. A mother herself, she founded Acta Non Verba, a nonprofit urban farm in East Oakland that focuses on serving at-risk youth from kindergarten to 5th grade. She will use her funds to further its mission.

Frank Golbeck (above), a US Navy veteran, started Golden Coast Mead on his family’s land in San Diego, CA, to produce mead, or “honey wine” — a tasty brew of fermented honey and water that has existed throughout the ages. As a Bon Appétit Good Food Fellow, he will be purchasing beehives to create an Estate Mead.