What It Means to “Answer the Call”

When applying for my current position at the Center for Rural Affairs, I spent quite a bit of time researching what the organization was about, who it worked with, and the audience it served. This information was important to me because I felt like I needed to be a part of something bigger than myself, something that served others and contributed to the greater good. These same thoughts were part of my motivation to serve my country in the military. These are my impressions from Answering the Call, a Veteran Farmer Conference.

Six years ago, I was finishing my freshman year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I was studying political science, specifically international relations, and was doing well in school, but I found myself yearning for something more.

I came home that May after finals and told my parents I needed to join the Air Force. I felt a calling to serve my country. I knew this was something I had to do.

Veteran Farmer Conference - Cora Fox

Choosing to join the military was a pivotal point in my life, and my experience serving our country shaped me into the individual I am today. Many veterans share a similar story, with common values and experiences that inform our mindsets as we pursue other endeavors.

Fast forward to my third week at the Center for Rural Affairs as a policy program associate – I was assisting in the planning and organization of the Veteran Farmer Conference in Seward, Nebraska on June 22.

For me, this experience was so much more than an informative session. It became a way that I could connect with those whom I consider my brothers and sisters, in a setting that central to my being, both as a veteran and a sixth generation Iowa farmer.

The day began with a great example of what it means to serve your country. Matt Hendl and his wife Emely told us about their transition from a lengthy career in the U.S. Navy to living their shared dream as beginning farmers in Nebraska. The welcome change has been the opportunity of a lifetime, allowing Matt and Emely to pursue their dreams of raising chickens, keeping bees, and growing their own vegetables.

The Hendls’ story wasn’t just a story telling others how to begin farming. It was also a story of hard work, goal setting, partnership, mentorship, dedication, and innovation. It was an example of what it means to be a contributing member of society, which directly correlates to the skills, values, and ethics that Matt demonstrated in his military career.

Veteran Farmer Conference - Matt and Emely Hendl

The conference allowed for conversations between participants and organizations. Farmers shared stories of the struggles they faced, especially as beginners. Many discussed poor market prices and high input costs. The sheer amount of capital required to start farming can be enough to make a prospective farmer shy away from this lifestyle. Fortunately, there are many programs available to help beginning farmers achieve their goals. Many of the participants told success stories about how they overcame these barriers and started their farms.

Despite the struggles, veteran farmers are thriving in Nebraska and throughout rural America. I think this speaks to the caliber of people who attended this conference. There is no struggle too great; resilience is in their nature.

When I think of farmers, and veteran farmers in particular, I think of hardworking and innovative men and women. I see their work in rows of fields covering the rural landscape, in rolling green pastures dotted with livestock, and on the shelves in grocery stores.

Farming is a livelihood, not an occupation. Family and community are both at the center of the farming culture. These qualities help to make farming an especially meaningful pursuit for many of our nation's veterans. Veteran farmers are keeping rural America vibrant, providing a safe place to raise our children, and securing the American dream. Their service isn’t over – it is continuing on through their work on the farm.

The Center for Rural Affairs would like to thank the following sponsors and supporters for their efforts in making this event a success for veteran farmers: Legal Aid of Nebraska, USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Ficke Cattle Company Graze Master Genetics, Green Acres Cover Crops, USDA/NIFA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), Prairie Plate Restaurant, and Marrow Market and Meats.

If you are a veteran farmer and would like more information on resources available to you, please contact me at the Center for Rural Affairs, 402.687.2100 x 1012 or coraf@cfra.org.

Veteran Farmer Conference - ShadowBrook Farms

Feature photo: Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Conference attendees at Ficke Family Farms near Pleasantdale, Nebraska. | Photos by Rhea Landholm

Top photo within blog: Cora Fox at Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Conference.

Middle photo within blog: Matt and Emely Hendl at Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Conference.

Bottom photo: Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Conference attendees at ShadowBrook Farms near Denton, Nebraska.