Program opens doors for Ky. military veteran farmers

Special to Civitas Media

FRANKFORT – They served our commonwealth and our country in the United States Armed Forces. Now, many Kentucky military veterans are continuing their service in agriculture, providing the food and fiber we all need to sustain our quality of life.

Homegrown By Heroes aims to help Kentucky’s veteran farmers forge careers in agriculture. The program is administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The brand designates farm products produced and value-added by Kentucky veterans.

The program also helps veteran producers open new markets in grocery stores and restaurants.

“These partnerships benefit veterans, retailers, and consumers alike,” said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who launched the program in January 2013. “Veteran producers get new outlets for their products. Retailers are able to offer the high-quality local foods their customers are looking for. Consumers can say ‘Thank you’ to our veterans by buying Homegrown By Heroes products where they shop or dine out.”

Kris Wissing, a Marine Corps veteran who operates Paradise Jellies of Louisville, got word Nov. 3 that his Florida Orange spicy fruit jelly soon will be stocked in 60 Kroger supermarkets throughout Kentucky.

“We’re elated,” Wissing said. “I couldn’t have done it without the [Kentucky] Department of Ag. I’m a firm believer that’s one of the main reasons we were able to move forward. Homegrown By Heroes is truly an amazing program. Whether we get reorders or not remains to be seen, but at least it opened the door. We would not have even had the opportunity without Homegrown By Heroes and the Department of Ag.”

Paradise Jellies also are available in Liquor Barn stores in the Louisville area.

Ed and Lora Ginter, of Woodford County, run Bluegrass Aquaponics, which raises fish and hydroponic vegetables, using the fish waste to fertilize the vegetables. Bluegrass Aquaponics provides lettuce and cucumbers to Common Grounds Coffee of Lexington for its salads and sandwiches. Bluegrass Aquaponics is growing tomatoes and green peppers to supply to Common Grounds in the near future.

Ginter said the partnership began with an email from the KDA’s marketing office asking who could provide lettuce and cucumbers for Common Grounds.

Dallas Robinson, of LaRue County, provided blackberries to Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen of Lexington this year. “It was sort of a trial run, but it was super exciting because now I can plan appropriately for next year and grow the amount that they need,” said Robinson, a sergeant in the Kentucky National Guard and an Olympic athlete.

Robinson said Homegrown By Heroes raises consumer awareness of veteran-produced farm products. “Prior to Homegrown By Heroes, there wasn’t a way to get our story and brand into the marketplace,” he said. “This gives us leverage, a tool to use to tell our story for us. From what I can tell across all areas of agriculture, the demand is very high and should continue to grow as we get more veterans in farming and educate consumers.”

Paul Dengel, of Whitley County, grows certified organic romaine lettuce for The Weekly Juicery in Lexington and lettuce, tomatoes and garlic for the Wrigley Taproom & Brewery in Corbin.

Homegrown By Heroes “gives me a chance to take a seed all the way to market. It gives me confidence I’ll have a market,” said Dengel, the Whitley County Extension agent for horticulture. “It’s great knowing there’s somebody I can call when I’ve got something and say, ‘Do you know anybody who wants it?’ Having an outlet is really nice.”

Homegrown By Heroes expanded nationally on Veterans Day 2013, and today the program claims more than 275 members in 43 states. Eight states have adopted the Homegrown By Heroes brand, with many more scheduled to follow suit in the near future.

To find out more about Homegrown By Heroes, go to

Special to Civitas Media

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