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Veterans get off the streets and onto the farm

Advocate works to find agricultural internships for homeless veterans

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If Clyde Drury were an old-fashioned postal carrier, he'd probably spend his weekends hiking. Instead, he coordinates the activities of the Pierce County Veterans Bureau - and spends his weekends looking for agricultural internships for homeless veterans.

"I don't have a budget for what I do on my own time," he said. "But other veterans are very generous with their support when they hear about it."

So far, however, the majority of them haven't heard. 

There's a reason the program isn't common knowledge - it's not a Veterans Affairs-sanctioned project. Instead, Drury came up with it on his own, and now it's something between a hobby and a calling.

Drury spends a good deal of his personal time in little towns throughout western Washington, visiting farmer's markets, talking about the program one-on-one with people selling their produce, and trying to find out what opportunities might be available.

The idea is to get veterans out of encampments of the homeless and into situations where they can be productive - and where they can once more experience being needed.

Since launching the effort last November, Drury has placed seven veterans with farms and ranches in Thurston and Clark counties. The hosts provide room and board and, in some cases, a little spending money.

The veterans provide badly needed help.

Some are working on spreads owned by men and women who aren't able to do the heavy lifting. So they advertise online for the help they need.  

That's where Drury gets his leads.

When he finds a farmer or a rancher - or an industrial farm - willing to give a vet a chance, the real work begins.

"It takes a month to make a match," he said. "It has to be as near perfect as I can make it."

The first step is to find out what the host needs, how much advance training or experience the position requires and what sort of living environment it can provide.

"Then we see what the needs of the vet are and see if it's a fit," Drury said. "If we think we've got one, we call the farmer and tell him we'd like to introduce him to a vet, then bring the vet out to look over the farm."

Once the farmer and the vet have a chance to talk things over, Drury meets privately with the prospective host.

"If the farmer is willing to give it a try," he said, "we go from there."

Most of the veterans chosen to participate in the project have a background in farming, so they know animals, something about raising crops and the machinery that's required. "They're glad to be working with their hands," Drury said.

They range in age from their mid-40s to mid-60s, are drug- and alcohol-free and are hoping to find a place in society.

Though their immediate future seems secure, where do the vets go when their internships have ended?

At very least, they should be able to take a letter of reference with them when they apply for their next job. Even more preferable would be a permanent job if the internship is with a corporate farm.

For now, though, it's enough that veterans have a place to stay, food to eat and meaningful work to do.

For more information, e-mail or call (253) 798-7449.

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