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Pork & Whiskey

Fundraiser helps vets off the streets

Apple and plum wood-smoked hog legs and pancetta rubbed in a medley of spices, including pineapple sugar, chocolate and Kauai sea salt. The pig would have wanted it this way. Photo credit: Vets_Cafe

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According to recent surveys, veterans make up nearly 10 percent of the homeless population. Granted, it's a significant decrease from the nearly 70 percent estimate from less than 10 years ago, but when we're talking about veterans, is any percentage really an acceptable margin?

VETS_CAFE doesn't think so.

Formed in 2012, VETS_CAFE (VETC) is an agency made by vets, for vets, dedicated to eradicating veteran homelessness by helping displaced vets get vital training and find new careers in conservation, forestry, ecology and agricultural-related fields.

VETC is made up of veterans from every American conflict over the last 70 years, ranging in age from their early 20s all the way up to their mid-80s. Sadly, the same age range applies to the homeless vet population as well.

"Some of these guys (have been homeless) for years, and they're getting to a point in their lives where it's really not safe for them and they just can't do it anymore," said Deston Denniston, an Army vet and director of VETC.

VETC raises free-range pork, chicken, duck and rabbit fed with 100-percent GMO-free feed. Clients are assigned animals in VETC's herds, flocks and fluffles, paying for the critters' upkeep and production costs on a sliding scale work trade plan, learning valuable skills in the process.

"We demonstrate how to make traditional pancetta, coppa, (...) hams and bacon," said Denniston.

Once they've learned how to raise their animal, club members learn how to properly carve them up, with on-site instruction from the experts and the Oly Meat Collective.

And the hardworking vets reap the fruits of all their labor.

"Veterans get a market-sized hog to take home cut, cured, and wrapped (...) as well as the knowledge of how to do it themselves," Dennison said. "We help them figure out if they want to do this at home and connect those who do with resources that they can use to make it happen."

And they have plenty of resources. VETC has partnered with dozens of South Sound organizations, including Slow Food Olympia, The Esterly Farm, The Washington State Veterans Conservation Corps, the Olympia Meat Collective, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and Enterprise for Equity, to name just a few.

But what do expertly-reared, naturally-fed, free-range homegrown hogs taste like once they "graduate from Porcine U," and start promising careers as breakfast sides? Can you really taste the difference? Well, even if you aren't the hog-raising type, you can judge for yourself.

In January of this year, VETC officially registered as a nonprofit organization. In observance of this important milestone, they're holding a "Pork and Whiskey" fundraiser at Rhythm and Rye in Olympia Sunday, May 21, with proceeds helping to offset costs for the coming fall. You can sample VETC-raised pork and charcuterie expertly prepared by master chefs and imbibe an adult beverage or five at the open bar while enjoying live music from Charlie Saible and Rooster Crow.

Tickets are on sale now and going fast. Don't miss out on a rare opportunity to eat pig like a pig for a really good cause.

VETS_CAFE presents Pork & Whiskey, 5:30-8 p.m., Sunday, May 21, Rhythm and Rye, 311 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.705.0760

For tickets or to find out more about VETS_CAFE, please visit or email

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