In southwest Colorado, one community organization is using regenerative agriculture to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life with a sense of community and contribution. The Veterans Homestead Project combines sustainability with the belief that connecting to the soil offers former soldiers numerous physical, emotional and psychological benefits, and can provide a stable, meaningful lifestyle to veterans.
The project began with one man’s vision. Gregory Hopkins, a combat veteran who had served five tours of duty in the Persian Gulf, started Breen Mesa Farm. Hopkins had suffered severe PTSD after returning from combat, but found healing through a support network of other veterans. He created a weekly social club for combat veterans and the Veterans Homestead Project emerged out of this program. The Breen Mesa Farm now serves as a training facility for the organization.
Located in La Plata County, near the San Juan National Forest, Veterans Homestead Project is one of only two programs in Colorado to be recognized by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a national organization that “connects veterans with education and career opportunities in agriculture,” according to their mission statement. With a focus on sustainability, the Farmer Veteran Coalition employs veterans and helps them contribute in a positive way to the health of their community.
Through the organization’s programming, veterans learn animal husbandry, food preparation and preservation, cheesemaking, hydroponics, farmers’ market and CSA management, pasture management, greenhouse production, and composting. Learning these skills enables veterans to develop self-sufficient and sustainable sources of income. The work itself is rewarding: “caring for animals and the land gives a sense of contribution on a daily basis and provides exciting new challenges and learning opportunities to look forward to daily,” they explain.
The program hopes to not only equip veterans with the skills they need to be successful in agriculture, but to also bring together organizations to collaborate in support of those veterans. To this end, Veterans Homestead Project serves as a regional information center where veterans can access additional resources. The organization is partnered with other community projects, such as the local VFW and the San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council.
Veterans Homestead Project is the only program of its kind in the area, and they view their role as essential for both veterans and for the community. The project is based on the belief, they assert, that “veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all.”