Self-proclaimed “veteran, veterinarian,” Michele Pfannenstiel, uses her unique background in the army and veterinary medicine to fill a niche as food safety consultant for Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). Pfannenstiel explains she can “speak veteran, but can also speak corporate and government.” She merged paths when she retired from the military and started her own company auditing and inspecting small agricultural businesses food safety plans. Then she connected with Michael O’Gorman, founder of FVC, which mobilizes veterans to feed America through cultivating a new generation of farmers.
Pfannenstiel now serves as the president of the Maine chapter of FVC. Maine is FVC’s model chapter—it sets sustainability standards and puts veterans at the center of the coalition. “O’Gorman and I believe the road to a sustainable agricultural economy is through safe food,” said Pfannenstiel. O’Gorman’s farm knowledge and Pfannenstiel’s food safety knowledge are helping veterans produce safe, healthy food.
“Agriculture is an outlet for returned soldiers,” said Pfannenstiel, although she acknowledges the research hasn’t been conducted as to why (so she is planning to conduct the research herself!). Pfannenstiel’s hypothesis is that it has to do with the customs—the world of agriculture is similar to the military. “You get up early. You work alone often. Things break, you have to fix them. You have to do the same thing day in, day out to succeed…You have to adapt and overcome. The mindset is the same,” explains Pfannenstiel.
“For soldiers coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan with post traumatic stress disorder as different people, agriculture is a way of being out on your own and it’s understandable, it’s healing. These vets need to go to bed exhausted, if they work hard, they can sleep at night, instead of tossing and turning,” said Pfannenstiel.
As president of Maine FVC, Pfannenstiel, mobilizes local veterans to feed Maine, shares best practices among other state chapters, and helps veterans produce safe food through written safety plans. “Agriculture is a language that vets understand, and if it is also a means of feeding yourself and your family, it is worth looking in to,” said Pfannenstiel, who makes sure veterans stay safe in the process.