Homegrown Heroes Blossom on Public Media

March 21, 2018

Homegrown Heroes at the APTS Summit

Jacquie Gales Webb, left, moderated a panel at the APTS Public Media Summit with veterans Edgar Hercila, Kelly Carlisle and Calvin Riggleman, along with Lidia Bastianich, who featured the veterans on her PBS special “Lidia Celebrates America: Homegrown Heroes.”  Photos by Neshan Naltchayan. 

Master chef Lidia Bastianich reunited with three veterans from her PBS special “Lidia Celebrates America: Homegrown Heroes,” to share their stories of service with public media leaders recently in Washington, D.C. Coming from diverse backgrounds, branches of military service and now working in different types of farming, the veterans vividly demonstrated the power of public media storytelling.

“We are telling a deeper story about freedom and civic responsibility – the foundation of a strong democracy, stories with the power to change lives and help us make that essential connection to one another that can lead to mutual understanding and respect,” said CPB President and CEO Pat Harrison, who opened the panel at the 2018 APTS Public Media Summit on February 27.

Bastianich, who fled communist Yugoslavia when she was a child and became the first American citizen in her family, spoke about her admiration for those who protect our freedom. Food was a natural entrée for her to share untold stories of military veterans, “Food opens all the doors – food is a communicator, a direct line to everybody’s heart and stomach.”

Bastianich described how the veterans in the PBS special exemplified the ways veterans look out for each other. “When you’re on the front, you’re always in pairs, protecting each other,” she told the veterans. “And you still have that urge to help, wherever that veteran might be that needs protecting.”

CPB Director of Content Jacquie Gales Webb moderated the discussion with Bastianich and the veterans, who told their stories of going from the military and into farming.

Jacquie Gales Webb
Jacquie Gales Webb moderated the discussion.

U.S. Army veteran Edgar Hercila was deployed to Iraq, where he worked in agricultural development and rebuilding infrastructure and schools. Although it’s difficult to establish a farm in urban southern California, Hercila succeeded. He turned a fallow parking lot in Anaheim into a hydroponic farm for tilapia and basil, using the nitrates from the fish water to fertilize 20,000 basil plants.  

Kelly Carlisle, a Navy veteran from Oakland, Calif., fell into gardening after being laid off during the housing bust. She was such a farming novice that when she saw a lemon tree at a nursery, she wondered who would go to the trouble of putting a lemon on it. She soon fell in love with growing things and discovered a parallel between nurturing plants and nurturing people. Carlisle founded Acta Non Verba, an urban farm project in which youth learn to plant, grow and harvest produce, and all their earnings go to individual savings accounts for their future. Her organization takes its name from the Merchant Marines motto, meaning “Action, Not Words.”

Marine veteran Calvin Riggleman is a fifth-generation farmer from Loom, W.V., whose family has sold produce along Route 50 for generations. He didn’t see any room for growth until fellow Marines encouraged him to consider selling produce and other products at urban farmers markets. Riggleman now sells his produce at several northern Virginia farmers markets and has grown the business to include a line of jams, jellies and sauces.

Though their circumstances varied, all three drew from their military training to weather the bumpy transition to civilian life. Riggleman credited the military for teaching him how to be responsible to and to depend on others, vital in farming where “Mother Nature’s your boss, and she doesn’t care about you.” 

Hercila, Riggleman and Carlisle all thanked public media for helping them and other veterans know that they are not alone — and for connecting military service and farmers’ service to communities through telling their stories.

“The typical image of a veteran that you have is not me,” said Carlisle, who praised public media for sharing her story. “The fact that I’m a veteran, the fact that I’m black, the fact that I’m a woman, the fact that I work in this low-income part of the country — all of that matters. Somebody’s going to see that and somebody’s going to say, ‘I can do that too,’ and that’s something we need more of.”  

Public media station leaders greeted the meaningful stories of these veterans with a standing ovation. And Pat Harrison closed the program saying that “with the commitment of everyone in public media, and our supporters throughout the country, as well as decision makers on the Hill, we will continue to tell these inspiring stories and do what no one else does, for at least the next 50 years.”