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Veterans find peace with farming

Union Leader Correspondent

March 08. 2017 11:33PM
Jeff Geary, a Gulf War veteran, runs Millcreek Dairy in Chester. (ETHAN HOGAN/Union Leader Correspondent)

CHESTER — A non-profit in Chester is helping veterans reintegrate into society by teaching them the therapeutic and economic potential of farming.

There are 112,790 veterans living in New Hampshire and more than 10 percent have a service-connected disability, as of 2014, according to the Census Bureau’s website.

Rebecca Beaulieu started a non-profit that seeks to give disabled veterans purposeful work and a potential economic path. With her husband Ken, who served as a hospital corpsman, Beaulieu decided farming could help veterans find their place in society.

Coming home from the service, Ken was disabled and could not re-enter the work force. He served in the Navy and was part of the relief effort in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Rebecca Beaulieu said she could tell that her husband’s time serving in the relief effort had affected him in troubling ways. She said she worried about his mental health.

“I remember thinking to myself ‘I’m going to lose him’. I can’t let this happen, I can’t let this happen to him,” said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu decided she needed to find a project for her husband that would give him the structure he had while in the military.

Beaulieu said, “I looked at him and I said ‘Kenny, what if you were able to just get outside and build some stuff and grow some stuff? What about a container garden?’”

Beaulieu said Ken started going out every morning to work in the garden and shortly after they bought chickens. She said that after seeing so many things destroyed while serving, her husband was able to create.

Now, Beaulieu has started the non-profit Veterans Chapel Farm that tries to help veterans who are in a similar situation as her husband.

Beaulieu has partnered with Jeff Geary of Millcreek Dairy in Chester to have a permanent location to teach farming classes. Millcreek Dairy is a goat dairy farm in Chester run by Geary who served in the Gulf War.

Working with agriculture and livestock, the farm gives veterans the opportunity to learn how to start their own farming business. Access to the farm also gives the veterans hands-on experience with equipment and animals.

Free workshops and training classes on how to grow, produce and sell a variety of crops are taught weekly to veterans in the area.

Beaulieu said that once the veterans find a farming product they are interested in, Veterans Chapel Farm helps them create a business plan.

Working with Millcreek Dairy and other local farms, veterans are given three years experience so that if they choose, they will be qualified to work on a farm.

The non-profit is funded through donations, Millcreek Dairy and a small portion of funds raised by veterans who have sold their products.

Julion Parker is an infantry veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan before returning home. After working with Mill Creek Dairy for several months, Parker discovered Veterans Chapel Farm and was able to start growing hops.

Working and learning alongside other veterans, Parker said he feels a sense of connection.

“There is certainly a bond there that has less to do with farming and more to do with our military background,” said Parker.

Parker suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his time in the service, but he said it helps to have the job at the farm.

“You have to be self disciplined. Your job is done when it’s done. That’s very comfortable to me because it’s a mentality I understand,” said Parker.

Beaulieu and her husband are working with Geary to prepare for the spring season, when there will be weekly classes.