US MILITARY veterans – many of them recovering from war-time trauma – have successfully found new careers in American agriculture, thanks to the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

The non-profit organisation, founded in 2008 in the wake of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in the spotlight this month as its founder, Michael O'Gorman, finally passed the pitchfork of leadership to a new chief executive.

Fatalities and casualties were high in those Middle East military adventures, and Mr O’Gorman’s idea was to create viable careers and 'places to heal' on farms for men and women returning from war.

“Our plan was simple: find a way to help these veterans, and then tell their story,” he explained. “The story was told best with a picture. A young man or woman joined the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard, many deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, some suffered debilitating injuries, and here they are with their pigs or chickens or tomatoes.”

The Farmer Veteran Coalition quickly grew into a national non-profit organisation mobilising veterans to feed America, working on the strong belief that ex-military people possess the unique skills and character needed to create sustainable food systems and strengthen rural communities, while themselves finding purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits. It has grown from a mere nine members its first year to over 20,000 members nationwide, and pioneered an entire military-to-agriculture movement.

Iraq veteran Nate Looney swapped combat for a new career in local food production, and in particular, hydroponics, thanks to placements arranged via the FVC: “Food is the next great war – food security in general, and penetrating food deserts is an all-encompassing battle," said Mr Looney. "Who better to fight than seasoned soldiers? We understand duty, service and dedication in the same way that our current ageing farming population does. We, as veterans, will continue to bear the torch.”

After leading FVC since 2008, Mr O’Gorman is stepping down in favour of Jeanette Lombardo, who was raised by an Air Force veteran father on a family dairy farm in Erie, Pennsylvania, on a family dairy farm. Having spent decades in agricultural banking before co-founding agri-water company Global Water Innovations Inc, Ms Lombardo is also the principal for California Food and Agribusiness Advocates with the mission of improving policy decisions for farmers in water, land use, crop protection tools, and international trade.

But the founder isn’t hanging up his boots completely – his ‘retirement’ allows for a renewed commitment to his passion for vegetable production, and he is taking on the new role as FVC’s chief agricultural officer.

“I want to use my forty years of farming experience to help members tap into the demand for local produce and grow their vegetable operations," said Mr O'Gorman. "I will be doing webinars, instructional videos, social media posts and, most importantly, one-on-one consultations with members in vegetable farming.”