What do I do with the rest of my life? It's the question tens of thousands of returning soldiers have been asking themselves, as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars come to an end.
Now, a Denver business owner is helping them answer that question. Buck Adams is an ex-Marine who runs Circle Fresh Farms, and he’s launched a new program called Veteran to Farmer, designed to help ease the transition to civilian life for soldiers coming home from war.
For Evan Premer, the peace and quiet of a greenhouse is a world away from the battlefields of Iraq. And that's just how he likes it.
“I started gardening at home, and it really gave me a place to release and relax,” Premer said. He’s been a part of the program for the past few weeks.
“We like to call the greenhouse the decompression zone,” said Adams. “What greater thing can you do than say ‘look I grew that that on your plate, I'm helping feed my community, I'm part of my community.’ It's a great feeling.”
Circle Fresh Farms is a major supplier of tomatoes and other produce to grocery store chains like Whole Foods.
As part of the Veteran to Farmer program, the soldiers are given nine months of on the job training, taught how to care for and cultivate the plants, given instruction on business skills, and they’re helped with financing so they can one day own their own greenhouse.
“What's most important for us as a society is to find ways to welcome these folks back and they're ready, they're so prepared to take part in something new, you just give them the slightest opportunity and they'll really run with it,” said Brett Ken Cairn of Circle Fresh Farms.
For guys like Evan, it's a natural fit.
“I've grown up around gardening all my life, and come to find out agriculture has been quite the background in my family, it skipped a few generations,” he said.
He says it's a relatively stress free setting, a stark contrast from what he experienced in Iraq. Now, he's gone from a soldier who didn't know what to do with his life - to an apprentice farmer ... whose tomatoes you could be eating soon.
“I'd say within 5 years I could be there, I just have the drive and the family support to do it,” Premer said.
If you're interested in the Veteran to Farmer program, click here: http://veterantofarmer.org/