Francis Lutz loves raising cattle on his family’s centennial farm, and he stands equally proud of his service in the U.S. Navy. Now, he can market those loves in a single package as a farmer veteran in Illinois’ new Homegrown by Heroes program.
“Americans like cause marketing, and here is a chance to give recognition to people who have gone out and served their country and put their lives on the line,” says Lutz, who owns Fox River Farm in rural Sandoval with his wife, Barbara.
Homegrown by Heroes is a state-branding program that uses a specialized logo to recognize farm products grown and raised in Illinois by military veterans or active duty service members. Veterans who maintain a 50 percent or larger interest in their farm or agribusiness may apply to use the logo on their product packaging and marketing materials, says Karen Fraase, bureau chief of marketing, promotion and grants with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
“Homegrown by Heroes brings in a new crop of farmers, both young and old,” she says. “Through our initiative, we can help put veterans to work, continuing the tradition of the family farm, bringing new ideas and innovation to the farm, or introducing veterans to agriculture for the first time.”
Homegrown by Heroes in Illinois started in July 2015 as a spinoff of a program founded in Kentucky and expanded nationally by the Farmer Veteran Coalition. The new logo program falls under an umbrella effort of the Farmer Veteran Programs in Illinois, a group of more than 40 organizations that support and help advance farmer veterans statewide. The Illinois Farm Bureau helped organize this group and its work to educate, train and provide resources to farmer veterans in the Homegrown by Heroes program.
“When the number of producers grows in Illinois, so does our economy,” Fraase says.
Serving on the Homefront
After four years of service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Lutz earned a college degree. He then had a long career working for major food companies before retiring in 2002.
“I’ve always had this tug in my heart to come home,” Lutz says. “I love farming and this area. My wife and I made a decision to come home and bought half of my grandfather’s farm from my uncle.”
He returned to 45 acres of land where his grandparents had raised him and soon began to raise grass-fed beef cattle. Though he sells beef primarily to individuals, he also sells to high- end restaurants and butcher shops in Chicago and St. Louis.
Lutz’s buyers keep purchasing his beef because it’s a high-quality Illinois product. They also enjoy supporting a veteran – their way to show appreciation for his service.
Homegrown by Heroes – though in its infancy – carries great potential for supporting Illinois farmer veterans and manufacturers of their agricultural products, Fraase says. Other early participants in the program include U.S. Army veteran Ray Ropp, who manufactures all- natural, on-farm cheese at Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal. Also an Army veteran, Brad Dearing of Dearing Country Farms in Bloomington raises beef cattle, goats and chickens, and produces meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, herbs and honey.
Harry Sawyer, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, praises the program for helping train men and women for careers as they transition from military service to civilian life. It also helps veterans network in the small business arena and market their products, he says.
“The Homegrown by Heroes logo tells me the products were grown in Illinois,” says Sawyer, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. “I’m supporting not only the Illinois farmer, but the veteran who grew that product. As an individual and a veteran, that is responsive to me.”