After returning home from the Iraq war, Terrell ‘Spence’ Spencer eventually turned to farming to put the war behind him, and with the help of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), he now helps others with similar experiences.
“Anyone who carried a rifle in Iraq or Afghanistan, I consider them a brother or sister,” Spencer says. “They always have a home on the farm if they can keep up with the farm.”
In addition to helping military veterans make their agricultural dreams a reality, the FVC administers the Homegrown by Heroes (HBH) branding program nationally, which helps veterans market their agricultural products.
Across The Creek Farm Helps Veterans Heal
While he had no interest in agriculture before serving in the Army, Spencer says he found it
peaceful to watch farmers work in their fields during his tour of duty in Iraq, and he knew it was something he was interested in pursuing.
“Through all the chaos, families would still tend to their crops,” Spencer says. “There was something honest in that, and it transcended the war – people still had to eat.”
Once he was back in the United States, Spencer earned a bachelor’s degree in soil and water science from the University of Arkansas, and he and his wife, Carla, established Across the Creek Farm in 2007. With the help of their three children, the couple raises approximately 12,000 broilers on pasture annually, as well as a flock of laying hens and a flock of turkeys, all on non-GMO grains.
“We started with 30 laying hens, and it just grew into what it is today,” Spencer says.
Shortly after the California-based FVC was created in 2009, Spencer partnered with the organization and began offering free farming workshops for veterans. In addition, Spencer often hires veterans to work on his farm, giving them an opportunity to learn new skills and find healing.
“We’ve trained more than 100 veterans with our workshops and internships,” Spencer says. “When you build things instead of destroying them, there’s a lot of healing that comes through, and a lot of Arkansans want to be part of this metamorphosis.”
Veterans And Agriculture Go Hand-In-Hand
Of the state’s approximately three million residents, nearly 250,000 are veterans – and many are interested in agriculture. As a result, Arkansas became a partner in the FVC’s HBH program in July 2015, which is available to farmers, ranchers, fishermen and value-added producers who have veteran, active duty, National Guard or Reserve member of the U.S. Armed Forces status.
“A fairly high percentage of our population consists of veterans, and with agriculture being the No. 1 industry in the state, it’s something that just easily fits together,” says Wesley W. Ward, Arkansas’s Secretary of Agriculture and member of the Marine Corps Reserve.
HBH is part of the state’s Arkansas Grown program, a marketing initiative that helps consumers identify agricultural products that are made, grown or processed in the state. Arkansas is the fourth state
in the country to create a combined label to indicate that products qualify under both programs.
“This is one way that consumers can help support and give back to those who have served in the military,” Ward says. “I think people want to show their appreciation, and one way they can is by purchasing veteran-grown products.”
Spencer, who sells his products at the Fayetteville Farmers Market, Wren Thicket Market, a natural foods store, and to restaurants in Washington and Benton counties, believes the HGH logo helps him attract new customers.
“People in Arkansas are very patriotic,” Spencer says. “Everyone seems to want the best for our guys and girls who served under the flag.”
About Homegrown by Heroes
Homegrown By Heroes (HBH) is the official farmer veteran branding program of America. The HBH logo serves to inform consumers that products donning the logo were produced by military veterans. The program is available to farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and value-added producers of all branches and eras of military service. Farm Credit is a sponsor of the national and Arkansas HBH programs.