The University of Idaho’s veteran-oriented farming and gardening program, Harvest Heroes, has partnered with a local farm to offer an educational “Barn Raisin’ and BBQ” in Princeton, starting at 11 a.m. today.

Veterans of any branch of the U.S. military are invited to McClain’s Meadows Veteran Farm to help raise a high tunnel or hoop house-style greenhouse and end the day with some chow.

Harvest Heroes has been around since 2018 and is billed by the UI as a beginning farming and gardening program offered to veterans through the school’s extension offices.

“It’s a small farm education program for U.S. military veterans and it was dubbed ‘Harvest Heroes’ by one of my colleagues,” said Iris Mayes, small farms and horticulture educator for the UI’s Latah County Extension. “It is a series of different small farm education classes and workshops to help U.S. military veterans learn to farm or implement new practices if they’re already farming.”

Mayes said one of the challenges veterans face when they reenter civilian life is difficulty accessing job opportunities. She said the Harvest Heroes program not only provides how-to instruction for those interested in farming, it also provides technical training on how to access resources designed to help veterans to get on their feet.

Harvest Heroes Program Coordinator Rebecca Bur said the hoop house that will be raised at the McClain’s farm was purchased with the help of a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant. She said there will be representatives from NRCS on site to talk to veterans about how to get help acquiring their own greenhouse.

Burt, who served in the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2005, said in her experience, there is also something therapeutic about farming and gardening for veterans.

“War is a lot about death and injury and, especially if you have PTSD, you kind of get stuck on that,” Burt said. “There’s just something about the kind of creation of life … instead of being involved in the taking or destruction of something, you are creating something, and it’s very healing. “

Burt said she has personally struggled with PTSD after leaving the military, and the farming and gardening programs she’s accessed through the UI have helped. She said another aspect of these programs that helps veterans is it provides a hands-on learning environment where they can socialize with other veterans.

Joe McClain said he and his wife, both army veterans, started McClain’s Meadows last year as a nonprofit teaching farm aimed at veterans and a lot of their objectives align with the mission of Harvest Heroes. A self-described country boy from Texas, McClain said he moved to the northwest as a kid and met his wife after joining the army in the late ‘90s. He said he has always planned on eventually leaving the military to start a farmstead of his own and when they finally settled on their Princeton acreage, he said the experience has been healing, particularly for his wife.

He said it is not uncommon for veterans to struggle with mental health — the veteran suicide rate is more than double that of the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. He said the farm provided his wife with a sense of renewed purpose and “kept her from going over the wrong edge.” As members of the national nonprofit Farmer Veteran Coalition, McClain said he has heard countless testimonies about how farming has helped veterans struggling with mental health after they leave the service.

“Dealing with people, they talk back, and everybody has a way to fix you. The animals don’t care, they just want to eat and they give you love for food,” McClain said. “You nurture your plants, they grow and they don’t ask you for anything in return and that’s kind of what we’ve learned through working with other veteran coalitions that do things like this.”

The barn raising and barbecue event will start at 11 a.m. at McClain’s Meadows Veteran Farm located at 1530 Hatter Creek Road in Princeton. It is requested that those who attend RSVP for the event by emailing rburt@uidaho.edu but an RSVP is not required.

Jackson can be reached at sjackson@dnews.com.

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