A new program taking seed in western La Plata County is designed to help combat veterans learn how to farm and reintegrate into civilian life.
The Veterans Homestead Project is the first of its kind in Southwest Colorado and second to be recognized in the state by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, a national nonprofit based in Davis, California.
Edit Aquarian, director of the new program at Breen Mesa Farm, said the plan is in its infancy, but already some funding has been established and more is expected soon. Some veterans have expressed interest, but Aquarian said she is reaching out to those who might wish to take part.
Breen Mesa Farm, which is south of Hesperus off of Colorado Highway 140, is operated by Gregory Hopkins, who served five tours in the Persian Gulf region as a pararescue man and was severely affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
A homestead farm is more of a family subsistence farm than a commercial farm, Hopkins said. The homestead concept reduces the stress of having to keep production constant.
The goal of the Veterans Homestead Project is to teach veterans and their families about grazing practices, soil building, animal care, food preparation and preservation, cheese-making, greenhouse production and farm management principles.
“Beyond the training, the program gives veterans a chance to connect with the soil, animals, plants in a rejuvenating, regenerating way to foster their readjustment to civilian life,” according to a news release from the Veterans Homestead Project.
The project also has goals to offer communication skill building and serve as a regional information center where veterans can learn about other support programs available for them. For more information about the project, email Vethomesteadpjt@gmail.com or visit the Veterans Homestead Project Facebook page.
Hopkins said tasks such as milking a goat or making compost can be therapeutic as well as provide valuable life skills. Veterans experience a sense of contribution and purpose or even get a small business opportunity out of the experience, Hopkins said.
“It’s up to the individual vet as to how it can help them,” he said.
Hopkins also is coordinating a combat veteran social group, sponsored by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The Doc Sword’s PTSD Social Club Durango meets every Thursday at the Durango VFW.
Hopkins, who recently moved to La Plata County from Hawaii, said a similar club in Hawaii helped him. It’s an informal gathering, not therapy, he emphasized. He said the Hawaii club helped him become aware of his condition.
“What I tried to do was mimic what I thought worked for myself,” Hopkins said. “When I moved here, there was no such thing.”
“Doc” Sword was a Hawaii psychologist who helped treat Hopkins. He recently died of cancer, Hopkins said.
“This is my attempt to carry on his legacy.”