UFVME Grows Veteran Communities

An example of the kind of cabin UFVME is aiming to build in its effort to house 300 homeless veterans across the state.

By Lura Jackson

 

In Washington County, one of the resources in great abundance is farmable land. One of the continual shortages, however, are people willing to work the land and turn it into produce for themselves or their families. The United Farmer Veterans of Maine [UFWME] is an organization aiming to change that by conducting public outreach and building a network of veterans who are interested in or are actively engaging in farming. Recently-relocated veteran Michael Lawson is among those who are working with the organization, and he finds it to be a valuable asset in working toward his goal of building a small farm.

Lawson was raised in a small town in Minnesota, helping his parents maintain a large garden in between practice and matches of football, basketball, and wrestling. He signed up for the Marines the year before he graduated, and would remain enlisted between 1988-1995. “I saw jobs that took me around the world twice as a young Marine in MWHS-2, MALS-14 as an Intermediate Jet Engine Mechanic, NADEP as Marine Security and my final billet as a Plane Captain with VMAT-203,” Lawson said. 

After his service, Lawson met his wife in Pleasant View, Colorado, and they purchased a small farming lot zoned for livestock. Together, they raised alpacas before buying meat and milking goats to enter the raw milk industry. As they gained experience with the goats, they became a resource for others in the area looking to begin their own enterprise. At one time, Lawson recounts, they had 200 Boer meat goats and a dozen milk goats, with 30 shareholders in the milk. 

While in Colorado, Lawson joined the school committee and became a vocal advocate for farm-to-school practices “as a way to save thousands of dollars a year on our ever-stretching budget.” Around the same time, he began a hydroponic greenhouse in which he was able to grow many vegetables successfully.

The high altitude of Colorado proved to be deleterious for Lawson’s health, and he and his wife recognized that they would need to move. After meticulously considering states across the country for “everything from crime and climate to people and possibilities to prosper,” Lawson and his wife settled on Charlotte, Maine. They sold 40 of their 80 acres and officially made their move in August of 2017.

Once settled, Lawson’s wife began researching programs available for veterans in Maine, and she came across United Veteran Farmers of Maine. “With more research and looking around for any and all programs available to Maine Veterans, UFVME seemed to have everything in place to do the job,” Lawson said. They attended a meeting of the organization in Bangor over the course of a weekend and were impressed by what they saw. “We gained our interest in this organization because of the infrastructure they have in place now and the growth potential they have planned for the future,” Lawson explained. UFVME is part of a greater national organization, the United Farmer Veterans of America. The statewide organization is affiliated with MaineFirst Co-op, which works to sell veteran-produced goods at stores around the state. 

After joining UFVME, the Lawsons felt they had secured a positive ally in their goal to produce and sell vegetables and fruit. The Lawsons began to plan for a three-to-four acre garden on their twelve acre lot, with both raised beds and a High Tube greenhouse. Lawson is aiming to grow peas, beans, carrots, three types of squash, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, and raspberries, all of which will be made available for sale from a roadside stand and across the state through the MaineFirst Co-op.

As a veteran, Lawson views the UFVME as a positive social force. “It would be great to get every veteran that wants to be involved in agriculture involved through these programs,” he said. From his background working on the school committee in Colorado, he hopes to similarly encourage small schools in Washington County to develop their own agricultural programs. 

Among the project that UFVME is engaged in currently is one that will provide housing for homeless veterans in the state, a goal that will be partially met through an upcoming craft fair in Pembroke.

Pembroke craft sale to raise funds for homeless veterans

Maine traditionally has a high veteran population per capita for a variety of reasons. While many of those veterans have been able to reacclimate to life as a citizen, others do not have an adequate support network. Those veterans struggle with finding employment, addiction, and homelessness, and, in some cases, they may attempt suicide. In recognition of the sobering fact that 22 veterans commit suicide in the nation every day, the UFVME has begun a project called Twenty-Two 2x4. The project aims to build cottages on veteran-owned farmland to house homeless veterans and provide a place where they can find support from other veterans and learn farming skills if they are inclined and able to do so.   

If you would like to support the project, you may do so by purchasing a special 2x4 board at the Pembroke Craft Fair on Saturday, February 3rd from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., or online at the UFVME website. The boards may be purchased at a discount in bulk, and they may be ordered in advance by contacting Bonita Jones. Every purchase enables the UFVME to acquire a set of boards to be used in constructing a small cabin. The UFVME has a goal of building 300 of these cabins across the state. For more information or to purchase a board, visit http://ufvme.org.