Mark Beyers joined the Marine Corps in 1998 and his wife, Denise, joined in 1999. In 2005, Mark’s unit was sent to Iraq. On August 26, 2005, Mark was on patrol when he was severely injured by an IED (improvised explosive device). He lost his right arm and right leg below the knee and was flown to Bethesda Naval Medical Center where he underwent many surgeries. He was later transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a year of rehabilitation.
When Mark and his wife finally returned to their hometown of Buffalo, New York, they had to look for a means to support themselves. They purchased a handicapped-accessible home with 15 acres of wooded land. Their land had stands of maple trees, and the couple decided to make maple syrup. That was the beginning of their business, Beyers Maple Farm (www.beyersmaplefarm.com).
In 2013, the Farmer Veteran Coalition met with Mark and Denise Beyers and encouraged them to join the Homegrown by Heroes program. They were the first veterans to enter the program outside of Kentucky, where the program originated. Through the program, the couple was provided with special logos to attach to their syrup bottles that identified their product as being produced by a military veteran. The couple continues to make their maple syrup, and their business continues to grow.
The circular logo has the program’s name at the top and a silhouette of a soldier saluting in front of an American flag. The red, white and blue colors on the logo help identify the product as belonging to the Homegrown by Heroes program.
Kentucky was the first state to address the need to support returning veterans who wished to pursue an agricultural career. In 2013, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture began the Homegrown by Heroes program. In 2014, it became a national program when the Farmer Veteran Coalition took over its administration. The Farmer Veteran Coalition was already helping veterans get started in farming by providing adaptive farm equipment, microloans and agricultural workshops. Adding Homegrown by Heroes to their services allowed them to help veterans even more.
Funding for the program came from Farm Credit Services, the nation’s largest network of farmer-owned agricultural lenders; the American Farm Bureau Federation; the National Farmers Union; and many other ag-related organizations.
Only 16 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but 40 percent of our military comes from rural areas. Once servicemen have finished their military careers, many wish to return to some aspect of agriculture. Homegrown by Heroes assists these veterans in establishing their agricultural business. From the grocery shelf, to farmers markets, to online retail, the Homegrown by Heroes logo serves as an extra incentive for consumers to purchase veteran-made products.
“Farming and military service are more closely linked than one might think,” said Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Thousands of our service men and women leave their rural communities and farms in order to serve our country in the military. Upon completion of their service, they often return home to resume work on the family farm.”
The Homegrown by Heroes program also works with veterans with no agricultural background who wish to begin a career in ranching, fishing or agriculture. To qualify for the program, a person must have served honorably, or be serving, in one of the U.S. Armed Forces branches and have at least 50 percent ownership in the agricultural business. Veterans of all ages can apply online at www.hgbh.org.
Currently, more than 250 veterans in over 40 states belong to the program. As our farming population ages, with the average age of farmers being 58, it is in the best interest of our country to encourage as many young men and women as possible to pursue agriculture-related careers in order to continue adequate food production for our nation. Purchasing products with the Homegrown by Heroes label is one way the public can show gratitude for the sacrifices our veterans have made defending our country.