May 9, 2016 – When Farmer Veteran Coalition assumed stewardship of the Homegrown By Heroes label from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in 2013, FVC Executive Director Michael O’Gorman had one goal: expand the label to a nationally recognized brand that differentiates farmer veteran products in competitive markets.
Today, thanks to generous support from Farm Credit, the Homegrown By Heroes label has expanded to more than 500 members representing 46 states plus Puerto Rico. Of those 46 states, Homegrown By Heroes has officially partnered with 15 state departments of agriculture to promote the label in conjunction with their own “Buy Local” labels.
The 15 partnered states are: Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Maine, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Missouri.
Seeing rapid growth since FVC began administering the label on Veterans Day 2013, Homegrown By Heroes producers generated an estimated $50 million in sales in 2015. After extending the agreement with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in December to continue administering the label, Farmer Veteran Coalition expects sales to continue rising. Since January, when the Member Relations team took over, the Homegrown By Heroes label has grown 25%.
Farmer Veteran Coalition member Matt Soldano, a Marine and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, owns and operates Southtown Farms in Mahwah, New Jersey. Specializing in pasture raised poultry and pork, and grass-fed beef, Soldano has been selling under the Homegrown By Heroes label for nearly two years.
“Homegrown By Heroes has been a great addition to our business marketing,” said Soldano, who served as a field artillery operator with 3rd Battalion, 10 Marine Regiment. “It helps us tell our story about being a veteran farm without browbeating people into listening.”
Soldano also says the Homegrown By Heroes label goes a long way toward attracting and retaining customers.
“The HBH label helps start a conversation,” he said. “From that conversation, a lot of reluctant customers will make a small purchase just to help support us. Usually 90% of those reluctant customers will return because they really feel like they got a great product. The HBH label helps get customers in the door and gives us a chance to make them regular customers.”
Benjamin Martin, one of three Marine veteran founders of Dauntless Wine Company in Cornelius, Oregon, recently certified his winery under the Homegrown By Heroes label. Martin, an OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, is looking forward to incorporating the HBH logo on Dauntless Wine Company’s picturesque wine labels.
“For me, it makes sense to sell under the Homegrown By Heroes label because of the instant recognition, credibility and authenticity it provides,” said Martin, who served as an assault amphibian vehicle crewman in the Marines. “Not only that, but the label puts a call out to veterans that there is an urgent need for a new generation of farmers—it’s time to answer that call once again.”
Established by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in 2013, Homegrown By Heroes is available to farmers, ranchers and fishermen who own 50% or more of a business or operation, and are veterans of the armed forces with a characterization of service of Honorable or General (Under Honorable Conditions). Value-added producers can be certified when 50% or more of non-water ingredients are produced by veterans in the program.