Combat veterans returning from multiple deployments often find themselves withdrawing from civilian life and questioning even the very purpose of being alive. I am a 100% disabled combat veteran with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder having served 5 tours in the Gulf as a USAF Pararescueman (PJ). My partner Edit Aquarian and I found that digging my hands in the soil, caring for animals and creating healthy food has played a major role in my ability to find trust in life once again. In addition to using homesteading agriculture as a low stress means to have a purpose in life once again, I have a strong desire to intervene and assist other Iraqi and Afghani war veterans coming home by offering an example of how to return to the world we once knew before we joined the military.
The idea for our Veterans Homestead Project began simply upon initiation of a PTSD social club at our local Durango VFW in an effort to get stuggling veterans out of their protective shell and rediscover the camaraderie so lacking upon safe return to home. As I spoke of our homestead I had a number of inquiries about possibilities to come out and assist. I also recognized that helping other veterans heal was as beneficial for me as it is for them. Our project uses me as an example of rejuvenation via hands-on training in daily living on a homestead farm. We intentionally designed our program to avoid the higher stress production farm model of agriculture so as to encourage our veteran participants to engage with nature as a means to eat healthy food as well as build a sense of constructive energy having been exposed to so much destruction in war.
We currently lease 265 acres in Breen, CO upon which we raise pastured hogs, meat/wool sheep, dairy goats, a variety of poultry as well as having established fruit trees and a production garden. With regenerative land stewardship being a defining focus of our homestead we teach what we live…healthy soil development, animals humanely raised on pasture, old world skills of butchering, compost, cheese and ferment production as well as newer concepts of biochar, compost tea, and portable electric fencing. Every facet of our training balances self-suffient independence with skills for functionally reintegrating into society.
Each veteran (immediate family as well) who comes through our program develops skills relevant to his or her own interests and capabilities. Some only desire to build a portable chicken coop to keep a back yard flock while others desire to gain university credits as an intern, or to lease/own property where they can more fully engage in the vast spectrum of skills we offer to teach. No matter the degree of desired involvement, each veteran comes away with a much greater sense of trust and purpose, greatly reducing the chances of entering the cycle of dysfunction so common amongst those who’ve experienced the horrors of war. We help keep our veterans off the streets, within the law, off drugs/alcohol and focused on the good rather than the bad in this world. Building souls through building soil.
Successes and challenges have been plentiful, as can be expected by any new organization. We have worked with 117 veterans over the course of the last 2 years with a number of them moving on to their own homestead or other ag operation and all seemingly in a better space than they were prior to participation. Challenges, increasingly viewed as opportunities, vary in size and frequency yet funding for the program remains the sole overshadowing “opportunity”. Our vision is that one large donation from a person for whom this program strongly resonates, coupled with many smaller contributions stimulated by healthy social media “virtual inspiration” may allow this program to exist with emerging ease, expansion and enjoyment.
Take “Thank You for Your Service” to a direct action step by liking us on facebook and spreading the word about our program. You can also send donations by contacting us, or the San Juan RC&D at PO Box 1006, Durango,CO 81302.