Back to News

Unique farming program helps veterans

Readjusting to civilian life through agriculture

Jason Alves, director of the Veterans Conservation Corps, made sure a trailer was level. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Jason Alves looked carefully to ensure that the bubble in the carpenter's level rested between the lines. It did, which meant the trailer sat level with the ground.

"What we're doing here is a type of therapy for veterans," a Navy veteran and the director of the Veteran's Conservation Corps (VCC) said as he stood up.

Last Saturday, Alves and approximately 20 veterans and volunteers took part in a permaculture farming class at the Veterans Farm located at the Washington Soldiers Home and Colony near Orting.  

"We broke ground for the farm in 2015, and it focuses on teaching veterans interested in agricultural industries."

The VCC is a state-financed program that helps veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan tackle the two big challenges of civilian life - finding employment and coping with psychic battle scars.

Veterans can spend from three months to three years in the program. There is no charge to participate.

The focus is on outdoor jobs in forestry, wildlife management and other natural-resource fields.

Permaculture agriculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

With a long agricultural history extending back over five decades, and over 50 acres of land open for agricultural projects, the Soldiers Home became a perfect site for the VCC.

"This program works to give veterans skills while contributing to the environment," explained retired SGM Lee Baleme, a mentor to veterans who participate.

He also allowed that working in the program helps him with his post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"It helps me as much as it helps veterans as they readjust."

Inspired by Vietnam veteran John Beal and an integral part of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, the VCC assists veterans by providing training and volunteer opportunities that help to restore and protect Washington state's natural resources.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I was a wreck; I was completely broken and didn't know what to do or where to go," Beal testified before the State Senate Resources Committee in 2005.

Beal died in 2006, just as the VCC was launched to address the problems he identified.

Working alongside the VCC are Home Depot, Expedia, Westcare, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Washington State University and Vets Cafe.

For Deston Denniston, an Army veteran and director of Vets Cafe, the VCC offers non-traditional therapy for veterans.

Referred to as the "professor of permaculture," Dennison approached the VCC in 2012 and offered to help with the program.  Since then, Denniston has created a hands-on work program.

"This work not only helps to stabilize veterans and the environment, but it also makes them employable."

Denniston paused for a moment, looked around at the open field and added, "This is good soil here; this is the kind of resource that is of immense value to the ecology and veterans.

For more information about upcoming VCC classes, contact Alves at or Denniston at

Read next close


Smothered in charm

comments powered by Disqus