Homegrown by Heroes

Supporting Maryland’s farming veterans

Writer: Judy Colbert | Autumn-Winter 2022
Many of us visit local farmers markets as a pleasure of living here. Who won’t suffer a hot and humid outing to get some fresh sweet corn or apples picked off the tree that morning?
Besides the flavors and freshness of the produce, we’re buying local and supporting our neighbors. When a farm carries a Homegrown by Heroes label you know that the agricultural products were produced by active and retired U.S. military members, and it allows veterans to differentiate their farm and ranch products in the marketplace.
The program certifies products from veterans of all military areas working as ranchers, farmers and fishermen. Eligibility requires that the operation maintain a minimum of 50% veteran ownership and management control.
Homegrown by Heroes is the branding program of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, open to anyone who has verification of having served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
After almost 32 years with the National Guard, Rebecca “Becky” Payne of Mechanicsville found a passion in alpacas. She and her parents went to visit an equestrian center, and suddenly Becky owned four alpacas. She doesn’t recall exactly how she heard about the Homegrown program, most likely in the transition paperwork she received. She’s impressed that they “offer support and training and I can use their logo.”
“Alpacas are a lot like potato chips,” Payne says. The flock has grown to nine. “The thing about raising animals, you lose them. So, then you have babies. The youngest is about 2 now.”
Alpaca is said to be a luxury fiber that’s warmer and lighter than sheep’s wool. It works great when used for sweaters, shawls, pullovers, ponchos, and such decorative items as rugs and wall hangings.
Payne usually stays with natural colors. Check out New View FiberWorks (newviewfiberworks.com), a women’s cooperative in historic downtown Leonardtown on the Square, for Payne’s yarns and some creations. (Also search for DreamWeaver Farm of St. Mary’s County on Facebook.)
Scott Sanders grows corn in Hollywood. Typical, you may think, for Southern Maryland, except he uses it to distill bourbon, whiskies and rum under the label of Tobacco Barn Distillery (tobaccobarndistillery.com). Sanders, a 1980 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is a retired admiral.
“I came across the Homegrown by Heroes program about five years ago at the Lexington Park farmers market. It’s a great coalition of veteran farmers,” Sanders says.
His yield is about 110 to 115 bushels of corn an acre.
“That’s low for normal corn growers, but we’re growing for high caramel rates, not the protein. So, we’re not using a lot of fertilizer that promotes the protein. We’re growing for starches and carbohydrates,” Sander says.
He plants the first week of May, harvests in late September and is making bourbon by November. “It will be about 5.5 years by the time we distill,” he says.
Look for Tobacco Barn bourbon at your local spirits store. Or book a weekend tasting or tour (maximum of eight people). The distillery is at 24460 Hollywood Road in Hollywood.
The program started in 2008 when a group of farmers and military veterans and their relatives met to develop a program to help veterans return to being productive members of society. Mary Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who left the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army and was killed while serving, was at that first meeting.
Under the guidance of Michael O’Gorman, the Farmer Veteran Coalition (farmvetco.org) was born, created to help veterans with farm loans and understanding the injuries and trauma that come from combat. The Homegrown by Heroes campaign was launched to “give the farmer veterans recognition in the marketplace for their military service,” states the FVC. New farm bills were enacted in Congress that incorporated micro-loans and conservation programs.
As you travel the state, checking out farms and farmers markets, look for the Homegrown by Heroes logo and know you are supporting veterans and active military members.
Learn more about the program at marylandsbest.maryland.gov/homegrown-by-heroes/. •