Bennington Banner: Food Grown for Veterans by Veterans

 Photo: This historical sign on the Vermont Veterans' Home property states that when the home opened in 1887, it included a working farm for able veterans. The site was the former country estate of Seth B. Hunt, which was built in 1860.

Photo: This historical sign on the Vermont Veterans' Home property states that when the home opened in 1887, it included a working farm for able veterans. The site was the former country estate of Seth B. Hunt, which was built in 1860.

Posted Monday, June 18, 2018 7:39 pm

By Patricia LeBoeuf, Bennington Banner

BENNINGTON — Residents of the Vermont Veterans' Home now have a recurring, local treat in the form of a veteran-sourced meal.

One Sunday a month, a meal served at the veterans home will be sourced entirely from local, veteran-owned farms.

"This is just a special edition that we're trying to add into our regular dietary menu," said Al Faxon, deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the veterans' home. "This is just another way to give back."

The next meal will be in July.

The idea grew out of a community garden built for veterans and their families at the veterans' home, Faxon said.

Through discussions with Liz Ruffa of Northshire Grows Inc., a local nonprofit focused on issues around food and agribusiness development, the idea came up to have meals from veteran-owned farms.

"It dawned on me that perhaps what the veterans' home should do was source this food from local farmers," said Ruffa, executive director of Northshire Grows.

The veterans' home and Northshire Grows had spent a few years discussing local food options; the idea for sourcing food from veteran-owned farms was the idea that stuck, she said.

Ruffa helps locate farmers to supply food for the meal.

"It's a great model for how community embraces food, and food embraces community," she said.

The decision to have the monthly meal offers the opportunity to support veterans, as many of them are trying to get their farms up and running, Faxon said.

The monthly meal may also expand; staff are considering having all the holiday meals at the veterans' home sourced from veteran-owned farms, he said.

Harwood Homestead provided 50 chickens for the first veteran-owned farm meal at the veterans' home in May.

Ashley Harwood, a Marine Corps veteran, and his family own the farm, which is in Pownal.

They started out providing food for themselves back in North Carolina, where they previously lived. 

"It kind of snowballed, and just grew bigger and bigger," Harwood said of the farm's development. "We discovered there was a need."

They're looking for more ways to provide food to the Veterans' Home, he said.

Surprisingly, a lot of the veterans at the veterans' home were farmers, Faxon said.

"They're thoroughly excited about this," he said of the veterans that live at the home.

The veterans' home initially was a farm, he said.

"If you lived here in the past, in the 1800s, early 1900s, you also worked the farm that provided the meals at the home," he said.

Farming can be particularly appealing to veterans, especially combat veterans, Faxon said.

"It's hard to explain combat to folks that haven't been there — it's even better not to, I guess," he said. "They've been through some pretty tough stuff, and they realize, life can be simpler. There's nothing like getting back to basics, when you're really working with the soil."

Faxon was in the Marine Corps for 30 years.

"This is veterans helping veterans, and Vermonters helping Vermonters," he said.