Vets Create a New Life through Urban Farming

Vets Create a New Life through Urban Farming

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James Jeffers is a 40-something veteran of two tours in Iraq. He’s also a recipient of the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, one for Valor. When he left the military with a 70 percent disability, he faced the same challenges as his fellow vets. Returning from war and reintegrating into civilian life can be challenging, especially for warriors who have served multiple tours.

James doesn’t come from a farming family, but he became interested in farming through videos posted online by an organization called Growing Power. Later, he connected with a California-based non-profit called the Farmer Veteran Coalition. He attended a number of their retreats, and he began working with FVC staff to lay the groundwork for his own farming business.

James enlisted his battle buddy, Steve Smith, to join him as his business partner. He and Steve were turned off by industrialized farming and processed food. They wanted to be part of something meaningful, and to live close to nature in a peaceful environment. Together they have created an urban farm that offers homegrown food for sale to their community in Dallas, Texas.

James’ and Steve’s business is called Eat the Yard. It includes closed-loop vegetable production, composting and edible landscape farming.The summer of 2013 was their first full year of production, and in the three years since it has grown and prospered. In the beginning, they used residential and commercial lots, community gardens, and even some rooftops in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. They adapted their techniques to accommodate each site, including container farming, SPIN (Small Plot Intensive) farming, aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical growing.

Before long, they expanded their operations to 15 acres of land they leased in nearby Desoto. There they have an outdoor garden where they grow produce to eat and sell. There is an indoor growing space for microgreens and an aquaponic garden to support vegetables and fish. They also have some pigs and a donkey they inherited.

The Desoto property includes a large house with gathering space for veteran groups. It provides room for meditation, massage, acupuncture and meetings. They also organize outdoor activities such as backpacking. Jeffers and Smith intend the property to provide long-term services to vets.

Jeffers works at the farm every day, and Smith comes in about twice a week. There are five part-time interns, two of whom live on the property. Each interns receives a stipend of $1,000 monthly, funded by a grant.