Homegrown by Heroes
The young Homegrown By Heroes marketing program sets apart products from farmer-veterans like Francis Lutz, who defended his country and now helps feed it, too.
“People are really genuinely interested in helping current military people and veterans,” says Lutz, a Marion County cattle farmer and a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. “I don’t consider myself a hero, but I am a veteran, and I am doing homegrown.”
Homegrown By Heroes – Illinois Products provides a specialized, patriotic logo to market Illinois farm products grown and raised by military veterans or active-duty service members. For Lutz, this branding program marries his honorable military service with his passion for grass-fed beef production.
Meanwhile, Illinois Farm Bureau’s Cynthia Haskins says consumers feel good knowing they support veterans through food purchases marked with the Homegrown By Heroes – Illinois Products logo.
“Next to being a farmer, I can’t think of a more dedicated group of individuals,” says Haskins, manager of business development and compliance for Illinois Farm Bureau. “We are supporting those who supported us and serving those who served us.”
Illinois Farm Bureau led the effort that brought the Homegrown By Heroes program to Illinois. The state’s participation in the program started last July as a spinoff of a Kentucky-born program that the Farmer Veteran Coalition introduced nationally. Any veteran who maintains a 50 percent or larger interest in an Illinois farm or agribusiness may apply to use the Homegrown By Heroes – Illinois Products logo on packaging and marketing materials.
“It’s great that we have a handful of the first farmers coming forward,” Haskins says. “We’re looking forward to others to come on board so we can show them our support.”
Among the first Homegrown By Heroes members, Lutz and his wife, Barbara, own Fox River Farm, a centennial farmstead in Sandoval where they raise grass-fed beef. The couple sells beef directly to individuals as well as to high-end beef markets in St. Louis and Chicago. Lutz finds that the veteran branding effort adds another layer of gratification for retailers, buyers and consumers who seek local, quality products.
Today, members of the Farmer Veteran Programs Statewide Collaborative Working Group spread news about this young program. Illinois Farm Bureau prompted the formation of this working group, which combines the efforts of more than 40 organizations that help advance and support farmer-veterans statewide. Collectively, the group offers education and training, facilitates mentorships and provides resources to farmer-veterans.
Lutz served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Afterward, he spent his career working for major food companies before his retirement in 2002. He longed to return to the farm and raise his own beef.
“We are at a tipping point where people want to know where their food comes from, who their farmers are, how they farm and how they take care of land and animals,” Lutz says. “Homegrown By Heroes is another recognition that says, here is a local veteran who put a lot into his community and country, and now he’s trying to develop food for us, too.”