Sustainable Farming for Veterans on the Heroic Food Farm in Claverack, NY

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Image courtesy of Ennead Architects/Ennead Lab

Up in the Hudson River Valley, 20 tranquil acres of farmland are about to take the shape of a military training ground—to teach veterans about sustainable farming and food entrepreneurship. This program, called Heroic Food Farm, has two aims: to help veterans and to help address the crisis in US farming.

According to the US Labor Department, the unemployment rate for soldiers who have served since 2001 is more than 7 percent. As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, agricultural production in the US decreases by roughly 9.5 percent every year due to a shortage of farm workers. Military veterans could help fill the gap.

Heroic Food was envisioned by screenwriter Leora Barish, a self-proclaimed “army brat,” when she purchased 20 acres of property in Claverack, New York, in 2011. She approached Michael O’Gorman of the Farmer Veteran Coalition the following year, and by 2013 they had attained the educational guidance and fiscal sponsorship of Hawthorne Valley Farm Learning Center, an area organization that runs beginning farmer education programs.

The nonprofit organization now offers tuition-free, one-year training sessions, called Full-Year Immersions (FYI). Trainees will learn about multiple aspects of farming and sustainability, from growing to processing to running a business, through paid apprenticeships with local mentor farmers, craftspeople, and food entrepreneurs. They will also raise livestock and cultivate produce in greenhouses on the property, and after graduation will receive job referrals and assistance with access to farmland. Heroic Farm also offers short courses, workshops, and individualized support for life and career transitions. Trainees can either commute or live on the Heroic Food Farm grounds, which will include eight low-cost micro-housing units and a communal space for dining and instruction. The four resident spaces for veterans and their partners are first-come-first-served.

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Image courtesy of Ennead Architects/Ennead Lab

The master plan for the complex was created pro bono by Ennead Architects/Ennead Labs in partnership with landscape architecture firm, RAFT. The housing units rest on piers and are linked by raised decks. Each 325-square-foot dwelling will contain a sleeping area, bathroom, and kitchenette. The architects intentionally did not design living rooms to encourage residents to spend time in the community house. The new buildings will be designed to meet Passivhaus / Passive House standards, which mandate extremely low energy consumption (if you haven’t seen it yet, check out my first blog post about passive houses).

With approval from the town of Claverack, fundraising to see the master plan to fruition is now underway. The architects hope to break ground next year and expect a completion date of early 2017.

The FYI program, which begins for new students every spring and runs until February 15th of the following year, or September 15th for fall entrants, is now closed for 2015. Veterans with an interest in farming and sustainability can apply for 2016 or for the year’s remaining short courses. The FYI application period closes by the end of April, but on a very limited case-by-case basis, the program will admit applicants for a fall start, contingent on whether there are immediate apprenticeships available for the winter season. Those who are not accepted due to lack of space or internship availability are encouraged to apply again the following year and to register for the program’s workshops.

You can make a difference by donating to the Heroic Food Farm via its sponsor, the Hawthorne Valley Association, here. There will be opportunities to volunteer in the future and in the meantime, you can visit the farm’s goats, chickens, llamas, donkey, and the smaller animals who wander around. The town of Claverack is located just two miles away from Hudson, New York, a lively center for art, design and food in the region, and is also where the artist Marina Abramović is building an institute for performance art designed by OMA.

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