For Veterans, service to others doesn’t stop when they transition out of the military. It may not be military duty anymore, but many still feel the call to serve. That’s certainly true for Amyrose Foll, a proud Native American Veteran whose path led her from serving as an Army intelligence analyst into careers as a nurse and a firefighter before landing in sustainable agriculture in a small town in central Virginia.
Building on a Legacy
Decades ago, Amyrose followed in her dad’s footsteps when she decided to join the military. “I have to be honest, as a Navy guy, he was a little disappointed I opted to join the Army,” she quipped. While a bit of rivalry may exist, it’s clear the military tradition is strong in this family—her husband Derek is a retired Marine and her son is active in Junior ROTC.
Growing up on the St. Lawrence seaway, Amyrose is a proud citizen of the Penobscot nation and has Abenaki family. Her latest chapter of service is built on the heritage and hard work of her ancestors, bringing the traditions of her people to the Indigenous and larger communities outside her home in Richmond, Va. This go-round, her focus is on fair, sustainable food sourcing using farming practices that respect nature.
As a descendant of the original inhabitants of our nation, Amyrose feels a deep purpose and pride in her military service and the path that led her to where she is today. There’s no denying that our military’s past treatment of Indigenous Americans is fraught with suffering and sadness, though. From colonization and forced relocation, to massacres and broken treaty promises, centuries of pain and erasure exist. Even still, Amyrose and other Native servicemembers still feel the call of duty. Why? For many, it’s as simple as the fact that the country they’re serving is the land that was originally their peoples’.
Amyrose has a measured perspective on her experience. During her time in the Army, she felt fulfilled to be in service to the larger country. The same is true of the work she now does in agriculture.
“I’m living out a legacy of reverence to my ancestors’ memory, having protected our country and now in feeding our people. It’s all just a continuation of care,” Amyrose explained. “I took an oath to protect Americans, and I guess for me, that vow continues today.”
Trading Combat Boots for Muck Boots
Native Americans serve at a higher proportion in our military, many choosing service as a route out of poverty toward a more stable future. Conversely, Indigenous people account for only about 2% of our country’s growers, despite their role as our nation’s first farmers. Those figures are even more dramatic when you consider how many female Native servicemembers or farmers are out there. While Amyrose stands firmly at the intersection of these facts, her impact cannot be told through statistics alone.
“Serving in the military is one of the best things I ever did,” Amyrose acknowledged. “It’s enabled me and my family to have the life we have and led me to my passion: preserving Native agriculture and feeding others. Sure, no one—not servicemembers, no farmers—wants to wake up at 5 am on a 20-degree day to work. But the Army taught me the self-discipline, perseverance and tenacity to do hard things like that, which in turn has helped my farming thrive.”
She’s borrowed other skills from her time in the military, too. “With food, we’re working with a perishable product that we need to get out to the community quickly,” she explained. From logistics and operations to team building and leadership, plenty of her Army-based experience has proved transferrable to her work today.
A Future Rooted in the Past
While she began growing food as a way to support herself and her family during a challenging chapter of her life, it’s now a core part of her identity. Her farm—Virginia Free Farm in Kents Store, VA—donates every ounce of food grown on the 26-acre property to neighbors in need.
Amyrose’s passion has also allowed her to start a seed library to help revive Indigenous plant varieties, many that have been lost due to colonization and the evolution of commercial food practices. Meanwhile, she gives her time to support the federally recognized Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan nations, as well as the Richmond Indigenous Society.
In our nation’s history, our military branches have faced conflicts as teammates—united for the cause of defending our country and supporting our freedoms.
“The military has fostered camaraderie between the branches even as our differences exist,” said Amyrose. “I have a hope that we as citizens can borrow from that example, to see ourselves as a cohesive team that would sacrifice for one another in our wider society.”
She’s seen that play out in the community-centric culture of Native Americans like herself, as well. “We come together to care for the young and the old. For us, taking care of others rises above the need for individualism.”
The work she is doing certainly lives up to her experience and expectations. Amyrose has built upon the practices of her kin to better serve future generations. She did so by following her father’s path as a military member and is doing so again as she preserves the farming practices of her Native ancestors and supplies free, native food to her communities.
Learn more about her work at virginiafreefarm.org and join us in recognizing other Indigenous servicemembers this Native American Heritage Month. Looking for more resources for vetrepreneurs? Our Business Solutions team can help.
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