Veterans help veterans at rural Brainerd's Veteran Valor Farm
With nothing but a dream of providing a space where veterans could find their way almost six years ago, Veteran Valor Farm is inching closer to opening its doors this fall and welcoming its first guest.
EMILY — A few dozen friends, family and fellow veterans gathered in Emily Thursday, July 28, to participate in the first Veteran Valor Farm’s charity golf tournament.
As a sign of good things to come that day, the rain showers broke just before the 1 p.m. start of The Valor Cup tournament at Emily Greens Golf Course. The tournament raised $1,400.
With nothing but a dream of providing a space where veterans could find their way six years ago, Jeremiah Peterson, the co-founder and president of Veteran Valor Farm, said his idea is inching closer to reality, with the goal of welcoming its first guest this fall.
“Our farm is a farm by name only as what we concentrate on is housing veterans, finding them jobs, occupying their times with chores, doing farm-like things and animal-assisted therapy,” Peterson said.
Located southeast of Brainerd on County Road 132, the veteran farm has two houses currently, though with limited funds and resources they are renovating them one at a time to make them ADA accessible.
“We were really blessed by finding a perfect property,” Peterson said. “We were waiting and waiting and waiting. And just when the pandemic started, the interest rates were right and we found a house. It's actually two three-bedroom houses on a 40-acre farm with some outbuildings. It was a perfect time to purchase. But then we had some water damage and fire damage. So we've been fixing that since then.”
Working with and volunteering at Veteran Valor Farm, Brandyn Pelphrey joined in the tournament as it is a cause he believes in.
“It's for a good cause. We're just trying to start a little fundraiser and start getting things going for our farm to help out with PTSD and veterans getting acclimated to the environment and bringing them back to society,” Pelphrey said.
Peterson served in the Minnesota National Guard with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division's D-216 Air Defense Artillery from Monticello and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Peterson found some veterans with idle hands were prone to alcohol and drug use, and he unfortunately began losing friends to suicide.
“So we believe idle hands are the devil's work,” Peterson said. “That's the part of the farm that we find most important. We're not farming hardcore and making money off of baling hay or raising animals. But we are going to have animals; for example, we'll have some multi-horned sheep, which don't take a lot of maintenance but still some responsibility for somebody to take care of each day.”
Serving with Peterson, Matt Lovitz, co-founder of Veteran Valor Farm, said veterans have a stubborn factor and just the “veteran mindset” of “We don't necessarily want a handout but need a boost.”
“(Veteran Valor Farm’s) is meant to be more of a paradigm shift to get vets out of the city, out of places where they're going get into trouble, fall back into old habits, drugs, alcohol and things like that,” Lovitz said. “Get them in an eco and animal therapeutic style environment, which are both proven to really help from, from a healing standpoint, with both PTSD as well as the idle mind. So we're looking to keep those hands busy and doing stuff.”
Peterson said he plans on having a few other animals on the farm such as therapy horses, and would help veterans who want a dog or even a therapy/service dog get one. Peterson said he believes being responsible for something else will help them on the path to recovery.
A testament to Peterson’s belief in the healing power of animals, The Babinski Foundation was one of the sponsors of the tournament.
“I myself believe, at minimum, having the responsibility of taking care of a dog could put one in the right place to be responsible for themselves, too,” Peterson said. “I find that's a big thing with some veterans. They're by themselves in the woods. They're not hurting anybody. They don't feel like they're doing anything wrong. But we want to increase their quality of life from a tent or from a van, to a real house where an actual animal could be comfortable. Then we want to emphasize, on their leaving, that you can bring the dog if you want to. But if you start living in substandard living conditions again, you should bring the dog back and probably come back yourself.”
Currently, Peterson said Veteran Valor Farm has a horse therapist and equine therapist from Gaits of Hope , an equine-assisted healing program located in Rice, who would come out to handle all the equine therapy with the veterans.
Veteran Valor Farm would work with the veterans to find stable jobs and housing before leaving the farm.
With a system he calls “red, white and blue,” Peterson said room and board would be based on an increasing scale to help prepare veterans to move out of the farm.
“We want to show them they can make it on their own before they ever leave the farm,” Peterson said. “They can do chores around the farm to work off their rent. But it's not a pay-or-your-out system. We are here to show them they can do anything they set their mind to and we will work with them.”
Currently, they are finishing up on the remodel of one of their houses but Peterson and Lovitz said they can always use help from volunteers, both with trade skills and those who just want to help out. And as a registered nonprofit with GiveMN.org they are willing to accept donations from those who can't make it out to volunteer.
“Just yesterday I talked to a Vietnam Army vet on the corner,” Lovitz said. “So I shared lunch with him. We just talked about his story and I’m really looking forward to moments like that when I can say, how'd you like to go home.”
To find out more about Veteran Valor Farm go to veteranvalorfarm.org or find them on Facebook at facebook.com/veteranvalorfarm .
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email email@example.com .