Program Promotes Buying from Vets

Program Promotes Buying from Vets

August 23, 2016

Story provided by Blane Singletary with "Oklahoma Horizon" -- watch the show on RFD-TV on Thursdays at 3:30 PM ET.

It’s feeding time at Canadian Valley Farms, a small, family-owned and operated farm just south of Norman, Oklahoma.

"This started several years ago," said Andy Wooliver.  "My wife and I, we’ve always grown big gardens. I grew up working summertime on produce farms and helped do fruit stands and stuff like that. So this is something we’ve always been really passionate about."

Aside from this being a family farm, it also has the distinction of being a veteran-owned farm.

"I am a Coast Guard veteran, 37-years-old, did four years in the Coast Guard between ’97 and 2001," said Wooliver. "Spent four years in the Coast Guard and only saw the coast one time and that was in boot camp."

After spending his time stationed on inland waterways, he’s now focusing his time and energy on the land. And while they aren’t a huge producer in Oklahoma’s second largest industry, things are continuously growing out here.

"It’s grown every single year that we’ve done it," said Wooliver, "to the point now to where it’s grown into a business."

A business, consisting of himself, his wife and seven kids. It started with a five-acre garden at their home in Norman. But this is the first year they’ve been able to move everything out to the pastures, and the plan is to keep moving.

"My wife stays at home and kinda helps manage the farm full-time, but I still have off-farm income coming in," said Wooliver. "But eventually one of these – hopefully pretty soon, we can get to the point where we can make a good, sustainable living doing this full-time."

Though his business has just been planted, Wooliver says he’s already reaped some great benefits, especially for the next generation.

"Part of the reason why we wanted to do this is, you know, we’re teaching them a trade and we’re giving them a legacy that few kids get nowadays. It’s very, very much family operations and sometimes that hinders our progress, I believe. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because, you know,  I get to work with my kids out here, even my three year old twins come out here and help pick, and uh, you know, not many people get the opportunity to do that."

The land itself has helped Canadian Valley Farms get to where they are today. With a naturally diverse soil profile, the Woolivers have been able to plant many kinds of crops, raise livestock and even beekeep. And another thing helping produce and market their products is the “Homegrown By Heroes” program. It’s all done through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Meriruth Cohenour is Agritourism Coordinator for the agency.  "Homegrown by Heroes is the labels that you can get nationally," Cohenour explains.  "Those are available through the Department of Agriculture. And essentially we would like to inform the consumer that they are buying from veterans."

In partnering with the OK Grown program, this label helps people know not only where their food is coming from, but also who is growing it.

"It makes us feel more comfortable and we know who grew our food," says Cohenour, "and for those of us that are patriotic as well, it gives us another opportunity to support our veterans when they come home.

And when they do come home, farming can be a profitable line of work for veterans, and the Department of Ag, as well as other veteran farmers like Wooliver, are happy to help them get started.

"The Veteran Farmer Coalition actually has a mentorship program," said Wooliver.  "So if there was a veteran that wanted to become a farmer, but didn’t have the experience, they could go through the Veteran Farmer Coalition, and get in contact with me or any of the other veteran farmers and actually come out here and, you know, work side-by-side with us."

"We find that a lot of our veterans are seeking out this type of work," said Cohenour. "It’s outdoors, its hands-on and it gives them pride in the land and pride in what they produce."

This is only the beginning for Canadian Valley Farms, and perhaps only the beginning for veteran farmers in the state, and the nation.

"It’s an evolving monster," said Wooliver. "It just grows bigger and bigger every year, and uh, you know, we really enjoy the opportunity to be out here and to do, to do what we love, you know, not only what I love, but what we like to do as a family. So it kind of puts us all in the same boat, keeps us working together, and it’s never a dull moment, even if we want one."

The Wooliver family sells their products under the Homegrown by Heroes label to inform consumers that their products come from a farm operated by a veteran. Learn more at Homegrown by Heroes.

For more stories like this, watch "Oklahoma Horizon" on Thursdays at 3:30 PM ET.

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