The Homegrown By Heroes marketing initiative will afford farmers and/or agricultural producers located within the Commonwealth of Kentucky and who have served in any of the branches of the United States Military (U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard) the ability to use the Homegrown By Heroes logo on their agribusiness signage and/or agriculture products. This distinctive logo will serve as identification to prospective consumers that the products were locally grown or raised by a veteran. From the grocery shelf to the farmers' market to on-line retail, this label will hopefully serve as an extra incentive to consumers when making a purchase decision.
Goals for Homegrown By Heroes
• Provide Kentucky farmers who served in the military distinctive marketing/branding power to their locally grown and raised agriculture products at the point of sale.
• Afford consumers the opportunity to identify agriculture products produced by Kentucky Proud veteran-farmers at the point of sale.
• Afford consumers the opportunity to support Kentucky Proud veteran-farmers by identifying and purchasing their agriculture products at the point of sale.
Homegrown By Heroes™ Membership Eligibility and Logo Usage Guidelines
The following information is applicable only to individuals and parties interested in becoming members of the Homegrown By Heroes™ program that is administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture or individuals and parties interested in using the Homegrown By Heroes™ logo that features the Kentucky Proud™ logo. Individuals and parties interested in becoming members of the national Homegrown By Heroes™ program or individuals and parties interested in using the national Homegrown By Heroes™ logo must contact the Farmer Veteran Coalition (www.farmvetco.org) and comply with their program requirements.
Montgomery County farmer Danny Townsend likes the idea of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture honoring veterans with its new Homegrown By Heroes program. "I'm glad they're doing something for veterans," said Townsend, who served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The Homegrown By Heroes program will allow farmers who have served in the military to use a special logo to distinguish their agriculture products at the point of sale as having been locally grown by a veteran. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture hopes the logo will give consumers and retailers an extra incentive to make a purchase to support a veteran/farmer. Townsend will be able to display a Homegrown By Heroes sign at his booth when he sells his produce and sorghum at the Montgomery County Farmers' Market in Mount Sterling as well as the farm market building on his farm. Townsend was in the First Aviation Brigade during his stint in the military, which included more than a year in country.Just don't call him a hero.
"The guys that lost their lives over there were the heroes," Townsend said. "I just went and did what I was asked to do. I'm just an ol' country boy who made it back alive." Townsend said his rural upbringing helped him survive 14 months in the Mekong Delta. After basic training at Fort Knox and advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, La., he was based guarding a helicopter airfield in the village of Vinh Long from February 1970 to April 1971. "I'd always carried a gun since I was big enough, and I was used to hunting and fishing outdoors," he said. "Some of the guys in my unit grew up in the city, and they were really lost over there." When Townsend returned home in the spring of 1971, he returned to the family farm where he grew up near Jeffersonville, Ky., where he lives to this day. He is the fifth generation of his family to work those same fields, where sweet sorghum has been grown and made since the late 1800s. "I've always farmed part-time - tobacco and sorghum, mainly," said Townsend, who owns 300 acres, 200 of which can be traced back to his great-grandfather.
As far back as Townsend can remember, his family has grown a sorghum crop and made the sweet syrup. Sorghum making was once an autumn ritual in rural Kentucky, when the syrup was the primary sweetener before granulated sugar became cheap and plentiful in the mid-20th century. "I don't know how my family got into it," Townsend said. "My dad made sorghum basically all his life. I started at [age] 13-14 and never missed a crop [except 1970, when he was in Vietnam]." As a little boy, Townsend can remember his father using a mule to pull a "sweep pole," which powered a mill to squeeze the juice from the stalks of sorghum cane. Later, his dad used his tractor to turn the squeezing mechanism, which is similar to the wringer on an antique washing machine.
Today, Townsend Sorghum Mill is powered by a diesel engine. But at least one of the machines he uses in his modern mill is an antique. "I have one machine that's over 100 years old," he said, noting the 1906 patent date is stamped on it. Sorghum has made a national comeback in the past 35 years with 25,000 to 30,000 acres planted today, according to the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association (NSSPPA). Most of the acreage is in Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky leads the nation is sweet sorghum production and is the only state with its own sorghum association, which Townsend helped start. "I sell sorghum seed, too, and it's been crazy the last four or five years," Townsend said. He said the high price of crude oil has renewed interest in using sorghum to make ethanol. "Sorghum is probably the best crop for ethanol. With universities doing studies on ethanol, I've been sending seeds everywhere.
"Sorghum right now is really catching on, not only for ethanol but for use as an ingredient in high-end restaurants," Townsend said. He noted that chef Edward Lee of Magnolia 610 restaurant in Louisville, a finalist on the reality TV show "Top Chef" last year, uses sorghum as a sweetener in many of his dishes. Decades of practice has made Townsend's Sweet Sorghum one of the nation's best brands. The NSSPPA, of which Townsend is a charter member, has crowned his sorghum among the top two brands in the nation four times in the past 12 years. It was the national champion back-to-back in 2005-06, and runner-up last year and in 2001.
"The competition is really, really tight," said Townsend, who competed last year against 50 entrants from throughout the nation. In recent years, Townsend has diversified his operation, adding 15 acres of vegetables to his 40-acre sorghum field and 20 acres of tobacco. His produce includes broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, summer squash, strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelons. Thanks to a heated bottling tank, Townsend's award-winning sorghum is always on tap and for sale all year round in his mill at 11620 Main St. in Jeffersonville. For more information, visit www.townsendsorghummill.com.
While serving as a loadmaster on a C-17 cargo jet in the Air Force from 2006-10, Dengel flew missions to more than 30 countries around the world. Dengel, who rose to the rank of senior airman, also spent considerable time in the Middle East, including the four months he was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. "I was able to achieve veteran status for Iraq and Afghanistan due to the amount of missions flown in and out of each country and time spent there," he said. "My job required me to be gone close to two weeks out of each month, flying support missions in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing me to be in each of those countries at least once a month for almost the entire time I was stationed in Charleston, S.C., at Charleston Air Force Base."
Dengel joined the military for multiple reasons. "First and foremost, I wanted to serve my country," he said. "I felt I needed discipline and that the military could give me that structure. "My grandfather was a decorated ball turret gunner in Korea, which was the deciding factor on what branch I was going to enlist," he said. "I was in college when I enlisted and had no idea what I wanted to do with my future and felt that I would have some idea of what I wanted to do if I didn't end up making the Air Force a career." Dengel now works as the assistant farm manager for Abell Organics near Louisville and grows garlic at his farm, Gravel Road Organics near Greensburg, Ky. Last year, he grew kale and romaine lettuce. "My farm is currently a work in progress," Dengel said. "I still feel I need more farming experience before I 'go all in.'" Dengel's interest in farming began while he was reading a book that detailed the many hats a farmer wears, including being part biologist, chemist, mechanic, and weatherman, to name a few. "I get bored with things real easy," he said. "So seeing this example of someone that has a job that requires so many different disciplines, knowing that I one day wanted to be my own boss and to be able to work outside with my hands, further solidified my desires to farm.
"I feel that, through food and farming, we can help fight some of the more pressing issues that we face today, such as climate change and socioeconomic disparities." Dengel was born in Wisconsin. When he was 9 years old, his family moved to a small 90-acre cattle farm. "We raised beef cattle for the livestock auction and grew vegetables for subsistence," he remembered. Dengel earned a bachelor of science degree in sustainable agriculture from the University of Kentucky. "When I talk to strangers about what I do and my background, I tell them about how being in the military gave me the confidence to take up a difficult profession like farming," Dengel said. "Farming has changed me … to the person I want to be."
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The couple met as Marines in Okinawa, Japan in 1997. Both from out of state – Amy is from Illinois and Dan from Nebraska – they reunited in 2005 in northern Kentucky, dated, and married in the Commonwealth. "We wanted to start a life together, and it's hard to imagine a better place for the type of lifestyle we wanted," said Amy. "We are living our dream and couldn't imagine doing it anywhere else on Earth." The couple began farming in Grant County on 10 acres with a flock of chickens and a couple of pigs. In 2010, they purchased nearly 80 acres in Bracken County, where they continue to raise chickens, rabbits, and a small herd of Icelandic sheep.
"The work is hard, but it's equally rewarding," said Amy, who served as a drill instructor before her honorable discharge in 2004. "We've found a community of support in our friends, neighbors, and people in our agriculture circle."
In 2007-08, Dan deployed to Iraq for a tour of duty as a member of the Air National Guard. "Kentucky sent me off and welcomed me home," Dan said. "Our neighbors adopted us as if we were family. …They've always been there for us. We love the people here and the support the state provides veterans." While the Clares are working toward making their farm more profitable, in their full-time jobs, service is a common theme. Amy serves as a social worker for the Commonwealth and helps ensure that individuals and families with special needs receive adequate services to remain in their homes.
Dan continues to assist his fellow veterans through the organization that brought him to Kentucky. As director of communications for Disabled American Veterans, which is nationally headquartered in Cold Spring, Ky., he oversees outreach for the 1.2-million-member organization, which helps veterans to receive their benefits and operates a nationwide network of volunteers.
"Marketing is absolutely critical for the success of any operation," Dan said. "For farms, especially small ones like ours, success lies in our ability to connect with prospective customers. "At its heart, that's what Homegrown by Heroes is all about. It's one way Kentucky is working to recognize the sacrifices of veterans, address unemployment, and help them to participate in the American dream they served to defend."
Consumers look for the Kentucky Proud brand for fresh, nutritious, great-tasting food they can serve to their families with confidence. Kentucky Proud is recognized as the symbol of quality food products raised or made in Kentucky by Kentuckians. Kentucky Proud members benefit from the program's ongoing statewide promotional campaign. Kentucky Proud generated $250 million in retail sales through Kentucky Proud member retailers in the last three years. Member producers and retailers may receive cost-share funds for advertising and purchase Kentucky Proud promotional items at cost. Member restaurant may be reimbursed a portion of Kentucky Proud purchases under the Buy Local Program. Join the Kentucky Proud movement today.
"There are three times I've felt God telling me to do something: to go to the Air Force Academy, to marry my husband, and to become an alpaca rancher," she wrote on her farm's website. "He hasn't steered me wrong yet!" Alvina Maynard and her husband, a Kentucky native, own River Hill Ranch near Richmond, Ky. She's also an Air Force Reservist assigned to the Office of Special Investigations. Maynard told BG Magazine that she sees many parallels between her Air Force career in criminal/counterintelligence investigations and special investigations and managing a farm. "The longer I've been in the alpaca world, the more I realize my skillsets translate," Maynard said in the article. "As a federal investigator, your biggest strength needs to be talking to people, building relationships, building rapport, logical and creative thinking, time management, and project management. All aspects of running a case involve money, coordination, staying organized, and paying attention to small details. All of those things translate directly into running a business."
On her farm's website, Maynard describes herself as wearing nine different hats: owner, poop scooper, hay hauler, sales manager, packing and shipping manager, marketing manager, tour guide, webmaster, and social media manager. Maynard raises the Suri breed of alpacas for their fiber. Suris, which make up only 30 percent of alpacas in the U.S., produce a thinner, silkier fiber used to make high-quality sweaters, scarves, hats, blankets, and socks that will last a lifetime. Maynard holds a master's degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in addition to her bachelor's degree in political science from the Air Force Academy. "I left [home] at 17 to go to the Air Force Academy, where I jumped out of a plane a couple times, flew in an F-15," she wrote on her farm's website. "The Air Force sent me all over the place and blessed me with some amazing experiences."
A TV commercial steered Maynard into her second career as an alpaca farmer. "I saw a commercial for National Alpaca Farm Day," she wrote, noting that she had seen the animals in Peru but didn't know anyone raised them in the U.S. "I took some classes and was hooked." One of the things that Maynard is most proud of is raising her 3-year-old daughter, Aidyn, "with country values rooted in hard work, service, and integrity, surrounded by God's beauty and love." Alvina grew up at the end of a 2-mile dirt road. "We are so blessed to be able to sit on our front porch nestled among these green, rolling hills and watch these funny critters interact in the pasture," she wrote. "I love having my daughter by my side and watching her interact with them as well. It makes me smile to know she'll grow up knowing the hard work and simple pleasures of farm life."