A Brief History of our Farm Operation
Florida Veterans for Common Sense Inc. (FLVCS) has an active Environmental Working Group (EWG). That group, under the leadership of William “Coty” Keller and John Darovec, prepared an extensive report, Climate Change, Urgency and Action. http://floridaveteransforcommonsense.org/
While preparing this report the authors learned that conventional agriculture is a significant contributor to global climate change. They also realized that there are alternative methods that have less impact on the environment and can reduce carbon outputs compared to conventional agricultural.
Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund, Inc., (FLVCS FUND) a 501 (c) 3 corporation had long recognized that as a non-profit, its very existence and mission were always at risk because it had no sustainable source of income other than donations. To minimize the risk, its Board had looked into various business opportunities consistent with its mission that could generate income for the group.
As they delved more deeply into the information learned from Climate Change Report, the FLVCS Board recognized that a farm project could generate income. In addition, the board noted that farming can be therapeutic for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The FLVCS Board was also aware that veterans’ unemployment is often about twice the overall unemployment rate and that many veterans could benefit from learning agricultural skills.
In order to investigate the potentiality of a farm project, members met with the local agricultural extension agent, Dr. Robert Kluson, who is associated with University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
During initial discussions with Dr. Kluson the group found that their idea for a Farm Project was practical in the Southwest Florida region. Dr. Kluson explained that several organic farms operated successfully in the region and that the local supply of organic produce could not meet existing demand. Dr. Kluson then arranged for a tour of several of the farms.
On these tours, the group learned that raising organic crops in the region was feasible and that that an organic farms could also be profitable if managed properly. Dr. Kluson also introduced the group to local farmers, and others involved in local agriculture.
The FLVCS FUND Board recognized the possibility of failure as Dr. Kluson pointed out that many micro-agricultural projects had failed in the local area. The Board understood that a successful project would take energy, commitment, and creativity.
After considering the potentialities, available resources, and the likelihood of success, the FLVCS FUND Board determined that a farm project could provide a source of income that could support its mission of helping veterans. As a result the board decided in the summer of 2015 the FLVCS, to initiate and design a sustainable and profitable experimental Farm Project that fits with the mission of FLVCS FUND to help veterans. In addition to generating income, another goal was to provide employment in agriculture and to train veterans in agricultural skills micro-farm management.
Although FLVCS FUND is an all-volunteer outfit, in August 2015, its members and friend went to work by preparing plots, irrigation systems, and filling earth boxes for planting and placement.
As of December 2015, a FLVCS FUND garden is operating at Orange Blossom Community Garden in Sarasota. The garden is smaller than initially envisioned, but is nevertheless producing greens and peppers. The first crops are not certified as organic, but FLVCS FUND intends to transition to organic production and ultimately become certified as an organic grower.
The project is branded Green Path Veteran Farms.
Depending on the success of the initial experiment, the plan is to expand to other venues.
In short, the Farm Project is a project that is consistent with the values of FLVCS FUND and its members and is off to a good start that can be sustainable into the future.
Florida Women Veterans Conference
Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund Inc. created the first-ever statewide Florida Women Veterans Conference, which was aimed at empowerment and advancement of women veterans of all eras of military service. Among the program’s aims is annual sustainability.
Budget: (2015): $23,500
Category: Human Services, General/Other
Population Served: Female Veterans of all military service eras
Program Short-Term Success: The initial, short-term success was to host a two-day (Friday night through Sunday morning) conference on Lido Key, in April 2015 for 120 women veterans of all eras of military service. Major conference themes, reflected by speakers’ topics and interactive workshops and breakout sessions: professional development; empowerment; health; mutual support; business skills; entrepreneurship; education; success after military service; health and wellness; veterans benefits, programs, and services.
Program Long-Term Success: The first conference was a terrific success. The intermediate and longer (one-year or longer) terms goal is aimed at sustainability and creation of annual statewide Florida Women Veteran Conferences by a core planning group that will self-identify during the planning and implementation of the first conference. Another major aim of this program is to create a self-sustaining, mutually enriching, networked, statewide community of women veterans.
Program Success Monitored By: We surveyed 2015 conference participants and the positive accolades exceeded our expectations. All the women responding to the survey indicated they benefited from the conference and hoped to see it expanded and continued.
Examples of Program Success: The first conference was clearly a success. The attendees not only reported that they enjoyed themselves and found mutual support at the conference, they also reported that they learned beneficial skills. The attendees also developed a statewide network of women veterans.
Our ongoing services to veterans:
- Establish, grow, support, and expand veterans court programs (for which we were recognized locally with a Distinguished Service award from the Sarasota County Bar Association)
- Aid and Support area homeless veterans
- Support hospitalized veterans
- Support the families of veterans with long-term hospitalizations
- Collaborate to host veteran-focused job fairs
Much of our program is made possible by in-kind donations–approximately $6000 per year for hospitalized veterans, $1,000 per year for homeless veterans, and $3,000 per year for veterans court assistance program. In the future, we would like to provide more services for veterans with miscellaneous needs such as roof repair.
Category: Human Services, General/Other
Population Served: Adults / Homeless / People/Families with of People with Disabilities
Program is linked to organization’s mission and strategy: Yes
Program is frequently assessed based on predetermined program goals: Yes
Program Short-Term Success: Our ideal short-term success is to supplement and complement existing government programs and partner programs so that veterans with immediate needs receive the assistance they deserve.
Program Long-Term Success: In the long-term, justice involved veterans are aided in reintegration, helping to prevent recidivism and increasing their citizen contributions to the community. We connect homeless veterans with long-term support services (health care, dental care, education and training, short/term housing).
Long-term success for our court program can be linked to the creation of a permanent staffed position with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, for which we were recognized with the Distinguished Service Award by a Layperson to the Legal Community. For veterans who are under permanent inpatient medical care, our material donations fill needed gaps that would otherwise remain unmet. Additionally, donations and volunteer efforts provide supplement the efforts of caregivers and provide limited respite.
Program Success Monitored By: The board’s executive committee, along with those directly involved in program delivery, meet multiple times each month to provide coordination, implementation and oversight of our services.
Examples of Program Success: A local veteran in our community was hospitalized with the threat of suicide, and because of our intervention, he was able to successfully complete his time in the hospital and reintegrate in our community as a productive citizen. We spent dozens hours of one-on-one time with him to connect him with resources and services, provide encouragement, mentoring and support.
Recently we worked with a young veteran with family including small children to find more suitable housing, relocate, and move his belongings to a new home. Without this caring assistance, the family would have lost all of its personal possessions and would have been unable to move into a new, more accommodating residence. We worked in partnership with Jewish Family & Children’s Services. This is one example of how our collective efforts produce a multiplier effect.
Comments: As noted elsewhere in this profile, the Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund Inc. (FLVCS Fund) is a new 501(c)(3) legal creation of the longstanding and very active Florida Veterans for Common Sense (FLVCS) membership advocacy organization. Programs and activities of FLVCS and present goals for the FLVCS Fund have been detailed elsewhere in this profile.