I met Craig last year at the Veteran Employment session of the Clinton Global Initiative. I was representing the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), a group I started after 40 years of organic farming. We help create both viable jobs and places for returning veterans to heal on America’s farms.
I knew about Craig’s commitment to helping veterans, but I did not know about his love of birds until we became friends on Facebook. So when a young friend, Alix Blair, sent me the trailer about a powerful movie she and her friends are making about how one seriously injured veteran is finding healing through the loving care of hundreds of rare breeds of egg-producing birds, I wanted to share it with Craig.
Alex Sutton served six combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went back to the front repeatedly – until his luck ran out and an improvised explosive device (IED) ended his military career.
The movie that Alix Blair, Jeremy Lange, and their partners are making tells one very compelling story about one amazing young man’s journey. It’s Alex Sutton’s story.
Alex was FVC’s first Bob Woodruff Farming Fellow. Bob Woodruff is the ABC reporter who also suffered a tremendous injury from an IED while embedded with the troops in Iraq. Ironically, Alex was scheduled to go out and protect Bob the night of his injury. The award he received allowed us to buy Alex his incubating and hatching equipment, but it was also a profound honor for him.
Alex is one of over thirty veterans, most, but not all, combat injured – who have now received similar grants through our Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. The Bob Woodruff Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Bon Appétit Management Company, and others have made this possible.
Many of the more seriously injured veterans prefer privacy to help them heal; others like Alex, find healing in sharing their stories. We do not just award money, either. Our team of seasoned food and farming leaders work with each veteran until they come up with a business plan that will create long-term support for the veteran and his or her family.
Besides the Fellowship Fund, FVC offers an array of support for beginning veteran farmers. This year alone we are co-sponsoring educational farming retreats and workshops for veterans in fifteen states. In July we will host the first ever national conference for women veterans and agriculture. We have helped support the inclusion of numerous programs in the Senate passed Farm Bill that will be helpful to all veterans transitioning into agriculture, as well as a critical new micro-lending program that will create a source of hard to get capital for all small farmers.
The veterans we work with are not looking for a handout, but instead, a new way to serve their country. They have found it – in farming
Michael O’Gorman was one of the country’s pioneering organic farmers. In 2008 he founded the Farmer Veteran Coalition and now helps men and women transition from war to farming.