Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Veterans to Farmers
by Ellie Lanphier
“We are in a time of extraordinary opportunity. After a decade of seismic shocks to our country, from global terrorism to deep recessions and major national disasters, each of the three legs of sustainability-the environment, the economy, and the social equity of our communities-is in crisis. Yet throughout this time a movement has grown which brings great hope for a more healthy, sustainable and prosperous future. It is the movement to produce, access, secure and consume good and healthy food. People are re-awakening to the fact that food is not only the basis for our health but it is also at the basis of traditions, customs and culture that bind us together as family and community.” – Jim Cochran and Larry Yee, Food Commons 2.0
Veterans to Farmers is moving their Denver, Colorado community towards a local food future with a mission to provide American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution: The family farm. Started in 2011, VTF provides veterans the training necessary to establish new careers in greenhouse farming, while engaging the residential community in creating a healthier, local food system. US Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams, founder of Veterans to Farmers (VTF), became a leader in organic greenhouse operations when he started Circle Fresh Farms in 2009. Three years later, Adams had grown the business into the largest of its kind in Colorado. In 2011, he made it a company initiative to train and hire fellow Veterans. As interest in the Veterans training program exceeded capacity, Adams realized he would need a much larger space. Veterans to Farmers is currently fundraising for the continuing construction of the Training Center Greenhouse. Learn more about the project in this fundraising video.
The organic produce grown at the Training Center Greenhouse will be sold directly to the community within a three-mile radius, currently considered a food desert. VTF will accept SNAP benefits and sell a percentage of the food on a sliding scale to ensure access, regardless of income. The $1,500 Seed Fund grant RSF made to VTF in early 2014 supports outreach to the surrounding community, advertising SNAP benefit use to purchase VTF’s homegrown food and educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local.
The produce in the greenhouses is grown using aeroponic, vertical growing towers, which use 90% less water and land than traditional agriculture, while growing 10 times the yield. Each 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse will grow roughly 150,000 pounds of produce each year that will be accessible year-round.
From Adams’ initial training program, Veteran graduate Evan Premer now owns his own greenhouse and sells the food directly to residents and to restaurant owners, and Veteran graduate Dan Robinson is the manager of the Sushi Den greenhouse.
VTF helps Veterans assimilate effectively, productively and permanently into private citizenry by training them in Controlled Environment Agriculture. The VTF training program is free of charge, a stipend is provided for each Veteran during the 12 week training.
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Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance