While building the soil through regenerative farming, Gregory Hopkins is forging camaraderie with combat veterans.
Hopkins and his partner, Edit Aquarian, founded the Veterans Homestead Project two years ago on a 265-acre farm near Breen, and he is working to connect veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries with new purpose and people.
“The naturally tendency for combat veterans is to want to back away from human beings; they have lost some of that trust,” he said.
While it’s not therapy, farming is therapeutic, Hopkins said. The experience also prepares veterans to farm themselves and start similar projects so they can pass on skills they’ve learned.
“We’re trying to develop a rapport and camaraderie. Guys will start to open a little bit when we’re out working,” he said.
Hopkins served for 12 years in the U.S. Air Force as a pararescuer. He was deployed five times and made 400 jumps. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and works to initiate conversations about it because some veterans have not been taught about how traumatic experiences might effect them.
Hopkins loved his time in the military, but he wants to teach younger veterans how to take care of themselves and their relationships.
Thus far, a handful of people who have worked with Hopkins have gone on to pursue agriculture work.
Joe Fuenzalida, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his wife, Kelly, were two of those people. They are now working on a hay farm that they find calm and peaceful.
“I think Greg and Edit understand what vets are up against trying to transition back into civilian life,” Kelly Fuenzalida said.
Hopkins goal is to have a continuous flow of three to four people interning on the farm with him. Larger groups of interns would be tougher for Hopkins to manage, but he plans to offer more regular workshops on topics such as food preservation and regenerative agriculture techniques used on his farm. For example, they use heritage breed pigs to clear weeds.
One of the challenges for the farm has been operational funding, and Hopkins and Aquarian are seeking larger donors and grants. Hopkins would like to see some of this money distributed as stipends to interns to cover some of the living expenses.
To help the farm expand, Home Depot donated $15,000 in materials, including tools and a workshop and a tool shed. In June, about 40 veterans and Home Depot volunteers came out to help put up the new buildings.
Army veteran Lynn Jack, 73, and several others who came to help, know Hopkins through the social group meetings for combat veterans that he offers.
“It’s probably the best group that I belong to. There’s no sergeants and there’s no privates,” he said.
He would like to see Hopkin’s Veterans Homestead Project succeed as well.
“There ain’t no good unless you do it,” he said.
For more information about the project, visit http://bit.ly/29xfmYr.