The number of business owners and entrepreneurs in the US who also happen to be veterans is higher than you might realize. From big, globally known brands like Fed Ex, founded by Vietnam vet and former marine Fred Smith, and Nike, co-founded by army vet Phil Knight, to a slew of smaller, innovative businesses operating in every niche from coffee and clothing to vodka and video production, veteran entrepreneurs are everywhere.
While all of these ventures are great, some veteran owned businesses also seek to actively give back to other veterans and make a difference while also making a profit. One such business is the Veterans Healing Farm, located in Hendersonville, in Western North Carolina and founded by disabled Air Force veteran John Mahshie.
Sowing the Seeds of Change and Success
When Mahshie was honorably discharged from the Air Force, like many other veterans he had no clear idea of what to do next. What he did have however was ten acre family plot of land in Hendersonville and a knowledge of small holding practices gained as a child.
What Mahshie also had was first hand experience of the difficulties that veterans of all ages and genders go through after leaving service. Within his own circle of peers he had seen unemployment, marital breakups, social isolation, substance abuse, PTSD, depression and even suicide and he had heard stories of many other challenges facing vets that were not being adequately addressed. He was also well aware of the fact that Hendersonville is a ‘food insecure’ area, with many families, both military and civilian, failing to get enough to eat on a regular basis
His idea was a deceptively simple one. Turn his family land into a working farm that could provide employment for veterans, offer therapies and retreats, support and other social services and still build a business that produced high quality organic produce to be both sold and donated to the local community and beyond.
The Veterans Healing Farm in Action
The Veterans Healing Farm officially ‘opened for business’ in 2013. It is for the most part operated by Mahshie, his wife Nicole and a number of veteran and civilian cooperative members who share in both the farming duties and the profits of their labor.
By 2016 the annual output in produce from the Veterans Healing Farm had more than quadrupled and the organization, in addition to providing for the needs of its cooperative members, was able to donate 8000lbs of organically grown produce to food charities in the local area, as well as some of their latest sidelines in the form of 200 loaves of artisan bread. The growing methods used at Veterans Healing Farm are as unique as the people who use them. From the start there was a commitment to not using pesticides in any form. Not only was this something deemed better for the environment and for the quality of the produce but for some of the farmers themselves. Some of them simply would not be able to work around them, as the truth about Agent Orange and other herbicides in Thailand during The Vietnam War is that, among other terrible things, those exposed to them were left sensitive to all pesticides, and Agent Orange affected vets numbers of those who work, or visit to receive therapy at the farm.
The answer was to turn to Mahshie’s East European ancestors and begin making use of a process called Hugelkultur, the piling of soil on top of logs that decay and provide natural fertilizer for the plants above. It’s a great example of old methods solving modern challenges and, if the produce grown is anything to go by a very successful one. Veterans Healing Farm is just one example of how veterans are combining entrepreneurship and charitable philanthropic efforts to make a difference, there are, encouragingly, many more, and for veterans, and the United States in general, that can only be a good thing.