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Oregon wine company helps war veterans become farmers

Rome once conquered its vast empire one sword swipe at a time. Should they survive, retiring Roman soldiers received a plot of land in reward. Today, Oregon’s Dauntless Wine Cø. honours this ancient Roman tradition in the US.

Leanne Babcock (left), and Ben Martin (right) presents grant awardee Jacob Mogler (centre) a cheque for US$1,000 during an event for the Dauntless Veteran Foundation. Photo: Aaron Perkins

Marine veteran, co-founder, and winemaker Ben Martin, along with two fellow servicemen, established Dauntless Wine Cø. in 2014, inspired by the Roman ‘trading weapons for plowshares’ model.

Shortly thereafter, the winery received producer certification from the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), a small grant programme providing seed capital to veteran farmers.

In 2015, FVC further boosted Dauntless with a US$5,000 grant to bottle its first vintage.

Encouraged, Martin received further funds from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2020 to buy 2.63 hectares (6.5 acres) in the Chehalem Mountains AVA for an estate winery and vineyard.

“I went through the USDA for the purchase,” he explains, “so that I could better understand the application process, in order to mentor veterans on how they could leverage their veteran status to get a first-time farmer loan.”

Robust direct-to-consumer and tasting room sales have further burnished the success of Dauntless, including placement of its wines at the National World War II museum in New Orleans.

“They reached out to us and wanted to carry our wines – in particular our Riveter Rosé,” says Martin, “which fit in nicely with their rooftop bar named after Rosie the Riveter.”

Currently, Dauntless Wine Cø. produces approximately 1,600 bottles of wine annually.

Community Impact

Additionally, the Dauntless team established a philanthropic foundation for veteran farmers in 2021.

“Through our non-profit, Dauntless Veteran Foundation, we have awarded more than US$50,000 in grants to farmer-veterans in the last year, and are looking to award more,” says Martin.

“Local agriculture is the backbone for any resilient community, and we feel that the ageing farmer population is a societal vulnerability that needs to be addressed – that is why we are doing this work.”

Recipients of the grants include students, farmers, veteran dependents, and next-of-kin. Most live in the Pacific Northwest.

“We awarded the grants to individuals who we thought would have an immediate impact on their community,” Martin says.

The Dauntless Veteran Foundation grants address specific applicant needs for everything from walk-behind tractors, to out-of-state viticultural graduate studies conference fees.

Crawl, Walk, Run

Other efforts include Keys to Progress, a partnership with Progressive Insurance Company and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

“Typically, the recipients are veterans, or service members in need,” says Martin. “However, they have a commercial component for veteran-owned businesses also in need of a specific vehicle, which is the category we fell into.”

Consequently, Dauntless Wine Cø. received a ’21 F250 truck through the partnership, which they plan to use for their new programme, ‘Victory Gardens by Veterans.’ The initiative designs and builds victory gardens for local community citizens.

“I reflected back on my journey into agriculture, and remembered that it all started with a Victory Garden that my wife and I built at our previous house 10 years ago,” Martin concludes.

“We are using the simple premise of “crawl, walk, run” and “fail small” – by providing a space for aspiring farmers, and master gardeners, to hone their skills and grow, literally and figuratively.”

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