Growing Veterans, a local veteran's group, is boosting its outreach to veterans around the state by providing job and volunteer opportunities in sustainable agriculture starting Saturday, April 13 with its first work party.
Growing Veterans occupies the 3-acre farm previously owned and operated by the Bellingham Food Bank until 2012, when it gave up the lease after 5 years of farming.
Growing Veterans is directed by 26-year-old Chris Brown, a 2012 Western Washington University alumnus, Marine Corps veteran and the chair of the Whatcom County Veterans Advisory Board.
Growing Veterans began in fall 2012 under the fiscal sponsorship of Growing Washington, a nonprofit organization aimed to create sustainable food sources in the state. Growing Veterans’ goal is similar. It aims to empower all military veterans to use their skills and talents to support the community and the sustainable agriculture movement, Brown said.
The Growing Washington pays Growing Veteran’s $250 monthly lease on the farm because it is an extension of the organization, said Jay Dennison, Growing Washington's business director. The farm can expect to grow about $75,000 worth of produce this season, he said.
Bellingham Food Bank director Mike Cohen said the farm grew between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds of produce per season while the food bank leased the farm.
This spring is Brown’s second season farming, having previously worked for Growing Washington. He said he is finding it difficult to physically maintain the farm and reach out to veterans at the same time. Brown is eager to have a Vetcorps transition specialist working with Growing Veterans in September to build and maintain a network with military and veteran organizations.
Growing Veterans has a 3-acre plot with two greenhouses, located on the corner of King Tut and Guide Meridian.
Brown said he hopes to attract additional trades to the farm in the future, expanding the program to build skills based on veteran interests such as metalworking, woodworking or writing. Brown said he hopes Growing Veterans will increase networking with community partners and military veteran agencies.
“The specialist will build and maintain the network of military and veteran organizations,” Brown said.
Growing Washington relies on community-supported agriculture, referring to the network of local and independent farmers in any given region.
Most of the produce is sold to restaurants or families in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and King counties, by supplying them with “food boxes”, Dennison said. Growing Washington’s customers decide which produce they want in their “food boxes,” which is then delivered to them within a few days.
Aside from working the farm, Brown is also working with other veterans involved in the program to create a writing component as a way for veterans to describe and share their military experience, which is still just a preliminary idea.
The Bellingham Vet Center began a similar program for Vietnam War veterans three months ago, and Growing Veterans hopes to partner with them in the future.
“We are developing as we go,” Brown said. “The more veterans the better.”