Veteran-turned-farmer gives back to Wisconsin vets
Friday, November 16, 2018
As Thanksgiving meals are planned and groceries are purchased, it can be easy to forget about those military veterans without food or a home. These veterans are the ones who struggle with transitioning from war zones or military hospitals to suburbia and a civilian career.
One veteran has been there and wants to help others survive this transition by providing a harvest of help. Meet Jake VandenPlas, a military veteran and the co-owner of Door County Farm in Wisconsin.
VandenPlas is a military veteran who has been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder. Jake’s PTSD stems from his two consecutive tours in Iraq in which he suffered extensive blasts from IEDs or improvised explosive devices. This constant battering led to brain injuries and a medical evacuation, as well as the post-traumatic stress disorder.
Discover Door County Farm LLC
Fast forward to today after 13 years in the U.S. military. Jake and wife Emily are the owners of Door County Farm LLC in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The pair practice sustainable and organic farming using no genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers.
Together they farm 40 acres and have produced more than 40 varieties of produce. They have 20 chickens on site for all-natural pest control, along with the freshest eggs for miles.
Door County Farm also runs a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that has fed 10 families so far. The CSA is operated out of the repurposed old milking parlor on site. The goal at Door County Farm is to provide the community with “locally grown, fresh, and natural produce.”
Along the way, owners Jake and Emily are giving back to their community in more ways than just fresh food. It started with Jake’s own personal experiences in aiding his PTSD symptoms.
“Being out there getting my hands in the dirt, being able to see something go from being a seed to a tomato plant and nurturing it along the way. Those experiences have been more helpful than any form of therapy the government was ever able to provide me. Farming has done a lot for me,” said Jake.
Connecting Veterans in the Community
Here is where Door County Farm goes the extra step for veterans. The couple has a granary building that they are transforming into housing for transitioning veterans. This will give military vets who are easing into civilian life a place to get their bearings.
The reason for the housing project is personal. Jake explained what happened after he left Iraq. “They sent me to Germany for a couple weeks. Then I came through Walter Reed and then spent about three months at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Sitting there in that hotel room every day, that was so painful. It’s hard to explain how hard that was. I don’t want other guys to go through that.”
To be able to run a farm, CSA program, and transitional housing for military veterans in Wisconsin is quite the project. In order to reach this point, Jake has transformed the farm into an enterprise. He said, “Another change for next year is to run it like a business, not a farm. Create a business plan detailed enough that you just have to execute it."
He continued, "You don’t have to guess. You don’t have to worry. You have a planting schedule and execute that schedule. And instead of hoping Mother Nature cooperates, use the tools of the trade — like put a miniature greenhouse over the top of them to help expedite the growing process.”
This kind of business sense and motivation, along with the partnership of co-owner and wife Emily, is sure to enable Jake to achieve both of the company’s goals — providing fresh produce and a place to transition safely into the community.
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