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Local veterans transition from the battlefield to the farm field

NIWOT, Colo. -- They're going from the battlefield to the farm field.  Local veterans are being exposed to a brand new way of life, harvesting Colorado crops.

A few weeks ago, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, a group called Uproot Colorado and a non-profit called Veterans to Farmers launched a program that helps Colorado farmers with their growing workforce shortage, by training veterans to do the work at small and mid-sized farms like Aspen Moon Farm in Niwot.

Until a few weeks ago, Alyssa Draper-Juarez didn't know much about farming at all.  But there she was last week, harvesting potatoes - while perhaps planting the seeds for a whole new career.

"I was in the Army for six years," Draper-Juarez said.

An attack helicopter mechanic,  she did two tours in Afghanistan.  She suffered a traumatic brain injury in a chopper accident, and came home with PTSD.  She says the farming actually helps with the trauma of war.  And the other veterans agree.

"It's really nice to be outside, and lifting and moving and it's nice to get outside your head, and just be doing something," said Eran Rozewski, a Navy veteran from Parker.

"It's humbling, it's calming.  Therapeutic is the best word to say, but it's so much more than that," said Amanda Hillard, a Colorado native who served in the Navy for 14 years.

"They're kind of a ready-made workforce, they have discipline, they work hard, and they're adaptable they learn and they have persistence.  So all of the qualities in someone on a farm, they've got them already built in," said David Laskarzewski, the program coordinator.

While this pilot program is about to come to an end, local farmers hope to do it again - with even more veterans.  And this current group may have even found a future on the farm.

"I never thought that this would be, but I enjoy it and I would like to continue for as long as I can," Draper-Juarez said.

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