A group of North Texas veterans is working to help others who have served our country through agricultural therapy.
Steve Smith and James Jeffers met while at Fort Hood. Later, both served with different units overseas during the Iraq War.
Smith was stationed in Kuwait, and at one point met again with Jeffers in a gym overseas as Jeffers was on his way back to Iraq to serve again. The two stayed in contact, and reunited back in the U.S.
They developed a plan to enter the green construction industry, but as the market fell apart, they turned to pursing another passion – growing their own food.
The pair founded Eat the Yard, a sustainable company that uses yards and community gardens in Dallas to grow produce.
“We went out to the area chefs in Oak Cliff and grocers, and we talked with them about composting all their waste streams and taking it back to our plots, to our community gardens to use it for soil, grow our gardens and sell it back,” Smith said. “We wanted to be the greenest business we could.”
It did not take long for the pair to realize farming is a good fit for veterans.
“As we got into it and we were looking for opportunities for veterans, James and I, we took a couple of farming retreats with the Farming Veterans Coalition out of California, and they’re trying to get veterans involved in agriculture,” Smith said.
“Once I started gardening, it was everything I needed,” said Jeffers. “It was very grounding, it was therapeutic. I was my own boss. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I would go out and work at my own pace. It was physical therapy for me, it was mental therapy for me. I was learning something new every single day.”
“You have to find something that is meaningful to you, that’s why you joined the military,” Smith said. “You wanted to give back to your community, give back to your country and you need that rewarding feeling and you can’t find that in the workplace. One place that I think you can is in farming.”
The pair then formed the non-profit F.A.R.M, Farmers Assisting Returning Military.
The non-profit, centered on 17 acre farm in DeSoto, offers not only agricultural therapy, but also recreational therapy and professional medical treatment. In addition, veterans have the opportunity to stay in a home on the property while completing the program.
“It’s healing. you know. It helps you regain your focus. It helps you regain your purpose because these veterans are not broken, they just need to re-invest themselves in something they care about,” Smith said.
“The farming is really a distraction, and I can sit back and watch it - we’ll be doing a project, doing a job, even if it’s something as mundane as pulling weeds," said Jeffers. You get two guys down there with that repetitive motion, it’s a distractor and they don’t even realize they’re doing it, but it’s, 'hey, what unit were you in?, who did you deploy with?, What tours were you on?', and before you know it, they’ll actually just start unloading their trauma on one another and not even realize they’re doing it. "It’s very effective, and that’s why we modeled this the way we did with the non-profit work with F.A.R.M, we’re implementing what worked with us and what we see work with the vets that come out and volunteer.”
Right now, F.A.R.M is working with the city of Dallas on a project to bring an educational farm park to the citizens of Dallas. It would be located near the Dallas Farmers Market, and include educational urban farming programs to include both civilians and veterans.