Ag chief Comer unveils farm jobs program, labels for veterans

Kentucky farm products with new Homegrown By Heroes label. Photo by Janet Patton | Staff
Kentucky farm products with new Homegrown By Heroes label. Photo by Janet Patton | Staff

FRANKFORT — When Kentuckians shop for farm products, they can look for a new label: Homegrown by Heroes joins Kentucky Proud, the state's marketing program for local farm products.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and other state officials launched two initiatives Tuesday to help veterans and farmers.

Besides Homegrown by Heroes, Comer unveiled a Jobs for Vets programs to create a registry of Kentucky Proud farms and farm businesses that are interested in hiring vets.

Like the Kentucky Proud program, the Homegrown by Heroes label and marketing effort will be paid for by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board's tobacco settlement funds.

The potential farm jobs will be listed with USA Cares, a national non-profit based in Radcliff, and with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an organization that helps National Guard and Reserve military personnel.

Kentucky Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini said many of today's soldiers are used to full-time active-duty deployment overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade.

"Just now, as the wars are winding down, soldiers for the first time are not going to be gainfully employed by the National Guard and the military but they have to go find jobs in the civilian world," Tonini said.

Kentucky is home to two major military bases and other installations, and it has about 9,000 National Guard members.

"We know Kentucky as an agriculture state with a great agriculture heritage, and Kentucky is a great military state with two great military bases. What a great partnership this will be," Comer said.

Higher unemployment rates for vets indicate a need for jobs programs, and Kentucky needs more young farmers, Comer said.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said the initiatives can address both concerns.

"We see this as an opportunity to bring young men and women who have served to grow not only crops and livestock, but families," said Moore, who is the only active-duty member of the military in the General Assembly. "I can tell you from personal experience (farming) is a soul-soothing occupation. This becomes not only an opportunity but something they can invest their lives in. ... I believe this will be something copied around the nation, and something we in Kentucky can be very proud of."

There are signs that the enthusiasm already is spreading to other states.

Bob Silverthorn, chairman of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said he plans to discuss the KDA initiatives at a national meeting next month.

There are jobs programs in urban areas, but "we need to establish jobs with a living wage for rural Guardsmen. This can do this," Silverthorn said.

Michael O'Gorman, founder and director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is headquartered in California, said his group is in negotiations with Wal-Mart on getting Homegrown by Heroes-labeled products in their stores nationwide.

"The Farmer Veteran Coalition would like to see the Homegrown by Heroes label, begun here in the state of Kentucky, be able to be used by every American farmer who honorably served their country," O'Gorman said. He envisions it on everything from sorghum and relish to tomatoes and apples. "So the American consumer can select, when side by side, to support our farming veterans," he said.

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