Khaki Green fingers and Tiny Veteran Houses
[Photo: free image iStock_000024510285Large.]
If you are wealthy and are looking for a way to donate, give back to the community and make a difference or if you are a group of friends looking for ideas on how to start a business then you might want to consider a dream I had. It needs someone who is more business-minded, experienced and who has the skillset to make this work. I don’t have the capital nor the contacts and connections to make this possible, but it is something I keep thinking about since I dreamed it and I wonder if it would actually work. So I have decided to share my idea today for someone to read, maybe they will be inspired, maybe they can take my idea and improve on it and maybe it will open up opportunities and in turn support the people for whom this idea is intended.
If you didn’t already know, quite a few of my family members are either active duty in the Royal Armed Forces or they are veterans. My family has always had a deep respect and regard for our troops and our allies and I have had the privilege of meeting and supporting a few US troops over the years through my charity work with Soldiers’ Angels. We have supported and stood by our Armed Forces and allies and will continue to do so and this post today is about them and their future.
When my brother left the Army in his early 20s he really struggled to readjust to civvy street and integrate. He’d joined the army at 16 and that was all he knew. So much pissed him off with how lazy and sloppy people worked. Their tardiness for one annoyed him and he spent a few years comparing them to new boots in basic training. I got the impression he would have liked to have been the drill sergeant and whooped their arses into gear (and shape.) It took a while, despite his qualifications gained in the army, to secure any paid work on the outside, even the fire brigade turned him down. Recruitment agencies were useless.
Nonetheless, whether he would admit it or not, after he returned from Afghanistan and left the Army he seemed to go through a dark period and was surly, drinking more and becoming more agitated. He stayed inside. In the dark. Sleeping in the day with curtains closed and at night watching movies or playing video games in the dark drinking beer. He was drinking beer at 9 am some days. I think it would be fair to say he was experiencing PTSD and no one really knew how to deal with it and we just hoped he would just get better.
And he did.
It took a while but he is now enjoying life, has a family, a house, a well-paid steady job and those dark days seem to be far behind him. At least I hope so. No one really knows what another person is thinking or dreaming. Outwardly, he is a positive, take-no-shit and get-off-your-arse-and-work kind of person. Kudos to him. Inwardly, he is a big squishy softie and we all love him.
My brother was lucky.
Many however are not that fortunate and many struggle to reintegrate to civvy street at all. Some companies see military on the CV and reject them immediately. Not all veterans, but many, have experienced trauma, so much so that they cannot leave the house and are haunted by nightmares. We have all seen the Facebook “22 pushups” campaign to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. That number is increasing and I hate that. I hate that so much.
Everyone is different and everyone handles stress, trauma and experiences in their own way. Now we have more awareness about mental health and things are changing.
It’s not taboo to talk about PTSD and depression. And there are counsellors, therapists and doctors who can help. Veterans are writing books about their experiences. They are teaching us what it is like. We have the means and science to handle and support their mental welfare but what about their purpose?
A huge part of what makes us want to keep going is the need for a mission. We need a task. A reason.
This is so poignant for ex-military folk and touches on logotherapy if you want to explore that area of psychology. My brother was so used to receiving orders and just following them. Once they leave their unit they then have to think and decide for themselves and they need to find their “mission” which can be daunting especially when battling PTSD at the same time. They need to find that purpose. There are not enough business platforms and work programs designed for veterans in place. Period. The transition from military to civvy street is tough, rocky or just badly organised if at all.
Veterans go overlooked, shadowed by younger and richer college graduates with new sparkly degrees. They are not given a chance. And if they are awarded scholarships or funding, they get that disapproving look from their peers who think they are just some squaddie the local council took pity on and they don’t deserve to take the place. I’ve heard a few stories.
They don’t fit in, their views are different and they have grown up a lot quicker in harsher environments and don’t have much in common with those who haven’t served.
They have a sobering realistic firsthand experience of the evil that some humans are capable of doing. They had those rose-tinted glasses yanked off them in boot camp.
It is no surprise that veterans stick together. They understand without words. Comradeship. Veterans just know. They have experienced the same things, gone on the same path and often share the same perspective on life. They have been drilled and trained the same way. I only have to see how my brother lights up when he gets together with his fellow veteran friends. They are quick to recall memories, stories, total fucks ups and antics they pulled on deployments and on training exercises. From the outside, you just know they have their own world complete with its own jargon that us civilians will never know or understand. We have to just honour, accept and appreciate that. So instead of trying to change them to fit into our mould, we should give them a place to feel at home and let them create their own mould. We should try harder to support this.
Over the recent years I have been following a trend in the news about gardening. I saw an article in the Daily Mail (British newspaper) some years back reporting that gardening was having a great effect on mental health patients. Since then, many articles have covered this topic and particularly with a focus on PTSD. The results are profound and being outdoors back into nature, fresh air and having something to do is really changing things around for veterans.
Check out some of these articles here:
My brother is now outdoors more often. Not only in his garden but he is active outdoors and I think he misses the army because the crazy fool signed up to and completed Ant Middleton’s boot camp class and now he is doing a military-themed run and obstacle course. He is loving it and I think it is always going to be a part of him.
Simultaneously, I did a google search on modern-day farming thinking how I could take this gardening idea to the next level to open up business and employment opportunities for veterans and came across Richard Perkins; a British scientist who created a permaculture farm in Sweden. If you’ve never heard of permaculture, read this great summary here.
I’m a small seaside village girl, used to more towns and cities than nature. If I’m outside for longer than 2 hours I am going to start firing the red flares and writing SOS in the mud! I’ve never been camping and I am allergic to mosquitoes. Don’t even talk to me about going to the loo outside. It happened a few times, it was embarrassing every time and we won’t talk about that unless you get me drunk.
Anyway, so much of the permaculture stuff was pretty much beyond my grasp but I love all things ecofriendly, natural and the idea of keeping farming going but in a greener, environmentally friendly way just appeals to me. I’ve been following Richard for some years and even considered doing one of his workshops in Sweden just to learn the basics. I know! Me, going to a farm?! Totally. I must be crazy. I think the digs (tents) would be a little challenging for me though! BUT Richard has been so successful and I really think this is the future of farming that can be adapted to any area. You should definitely check out his YouTube channel here to really understand:
Richard Perkins’ Farm in Sweden:
And this gave me a great idea. It would have to start in America or Canada because the rest of Europe is so strangled by restricting laws and what you can and can’t do plus we are chopping up so much land to build more houses for the ever-growing population and America and Canada have acres and acres and miles and marathons of open space. They are more innovative and open to new ideas and if it works in the states, the other countries will follow suit where possible.
The business plan:
Basically I’d love to create off-grid permaculture farms for military veterans in every state in the US. A kind of rehabilitation farm to get veterans involved, outside, working, moving and working back in a team with other fellow military folks. It would be a safe space for them to come and heal, learn and bond and yet allow them through the farm to establish those first steps back to civvy street and obtain some great skills to allow them to either set up their own farms or find employment elsewhere later.
Let’s talk numbers:
OK, so I don’t know how much setting up and running a farm will be let alone if it will be successful so let’s assume we have a stack of cash and in a perfect world, it starts off successful. So the farm should be independent of government grants and loans because they like to control everything and change it for their benefit and meddle and quite frankly, I don’t trust any government especially when it comes to the welfare of our veterans. And money. But fundraisers and grants from other sources would be a great start. The farm should be co-owned by several parties to ensure objective decisions are made. This is a business, not a charity and the risk of one person going bankrupt should be avoided. More investors would be more financially secure.
The idea of the farm is to create enough revenue to put back into the farm and keep it going without loans. But excess profit should be invested in new projects for veterans. The owners should not lose money but later through possible contracts with other marketing or revenue sources should be able to make a profit for themselves. They must not, however, take money from the farm or veteran project kitty jar. Those staying and working on the farm will not pay rent but likewise will not earn a wage. Income for the farm must be generated through sales of produce and other revenues like social media vlogs, How-To videos and sponsoring. The farm and running the housing costs need to be covered by this income.
The produce grown can be sold directly to the community, privately and commercially. And any excess produce will later be used in soup kitchens/trucks specifically set up for homeless military veterans. This would be a great place to advertise the permaculture farm as well. Supplying local restaurants and cafes would also be perfect at working together with other businesses to allow the smaller independent businesses a chance. I really am not a fan of huge chains squeezing out the little guys. Maybe there could be a restaurant connected to the farm where produce from the farm is made into dishes?
I guess anything and everything can be grown where there is a demand and a need and fits with the location. The farms could even create their own wine and beer and sell that as well as advertising the veteran community farm. Initially, the people starting it should be experienced in farming and undertake a course in permaculture. Sweden might be a little far out but there needs to be a basic understanding and a common business plan set up that all involved follow. New ideas and generally running the farm can be discussed between the workers and volunteers and integrated accordingly. The idea is to allow creative freedom to arrive at the goal outlined in the business plan.
So at first, my dream had these kinds of log chalet cabins dotted around but actually, since watching Tiny House Nation, I think it would be awesome to have Tiny Houses on-site. It would allow people to have a “home” and those who want to bring their own Tiny Houses can do so, space permitting. You could have them placed in a half-moon and even incorporate a log fire in the centre space outside and create outdoors dining and social areas. I can’t even tell you how excited about that idea I am! It would allow people to have their own space but also be part of a veteran community.
The homes could be owned by the people who own the farm or by other outsiders and if they don’t live there themselves, could let others dwell there while they are working there. Any additional profit from the farms could go into buying and creating Tiny Houses for emergency cases where veterans or families may suddenly find themselves homeless as a kind of go-between until they get on their feet again. Definitely something larger military charities could get behind.
An on-site chef will create all the meals and there will be a fixed time for communal eating so that people come together and it ensures everyone has a break to relax and enjoy conversation and the food. But naturally, people can prepare their own food in their Tiny Houses themselves should they wish to and at their own expense.
Also referred to as workers, could complete a year at the farm before they have to rotate to a new farm or decide what they want to do in order to allow the next veteran an opportunity to learn and experience farm life. This would need to be coordinated through a vetting program to ensure they are either homeless, jobless and are actually a veteran. The most experienced ones will train the new ones and there must be one person on site that has an overview or deepened knowledge of how the farm is run. There would be a manager of a sort.
There would need to be several teams to ensure the running of the farm and to allow veterans to gain skills in many areas. Marketing, finance, personnel, production, legal etc. and each with allocated working hours. So as not to impair their financial situation too greatly and to make it more of a reintegration program the volunteers would only have a year contract.
Skills it could teach:
Through the labour itself, volunteers would learn about permaculture and modern farming. They would learn basic business skills and entrepreneurial thinking. They would learn about social media marketing and computers, video editing. They would establish relationships with other businesses, locals and make connections where they could potentially be offered work later on. Through the legal and financial side, they could learn how to budget and do accounts. There should be a path and connection set up with other companies to allow volunteers to transition into internships afterwards if they want to.
Other than influencing the local economy and partnering with smaller local businesses, it provides an opportunity to network and slowly reintegrate into civvy street whilst still being separate in a veteran environment. The farm could host annual parties where people bring a dish and gather for an evening outside of dancing, BBQs and campfires. Or invite locals or do fundraiser events for kids etc. at the turn of seasons. The possibilities are endless.
Mental Health Welfare:
A doctor or therapist should ideally be close by or someone who worked as a military medic or paramedic, trauma specialist or therapist should be one of the workers on the farm so there is always an option for those struggling to talk to someone about their issues. The vetting process would need to establish the mental and physical health of the individual and be careful about who they put in the team. This would need monitoring as would the improvement/development of the volunteer’s mental state. This would also open up research opportunities for psychologists but it must not feel like an invasive lab rat experiment set up. And consent must be obtained from each individual.
So that’s it. That was my rough outline plan I dreamed up within 20 minutes. I don’t know how it would actually work but I love this idea. Maybe someone can run with it and expand on it. Who knows. I’ll throw it out there like a message in a bottle and see what happens!
If you’d like to research some more on permaculture, gardening, tiny houses, or missed the links I mentioned in this post then here they are again to start you off! Enjoy and be well!
Richard Perkins’ Farm in Sweden:
Gardening and Mental Health links:
Tiny House nation TV Series:
John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin