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Veterans Urban Farm provides community, produce for veterans
The Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia aims to help veterans make connections within their community, gain experience that could help them with future employment and give back to the community through produce donations.
It provides an alternative to working in a clinical setting at the Truman Veterans’ Hospital for veterans in a transitional work program. Transition program workers are able to stick around for six months, but they can leave sooner if they find permanent employment elsewhere.

Riley Elgin, who is part of a transitional work program through Veterans Affairs, harvests radishes on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia. For him, working on the farm was a better alternative to working at the Truman Veterans’ Hospital. By working at the farm, Elgin says he is able to enjoy the fresh air. “Being cooped up inside would not do me any favors,” Elgin said.

Riley Elgin, who works at the farm as part of the transitional program, said he was “by no means a green thumb” but that he has learned a lot at the job.
He picked the farm because “working in the hospital sounded kind of horrible.”
By working at the farm, Elgin is able to enjoy fresh air and hand out free produce to other veterans every Thursday morning.
“Being able to give back in a meaningful way is always a plus,” he said.

AmeriCorps VISTA employee Graham Bellairs, left, and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture employee Carrie Hargrove wash radishes on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia.“I worked here last spring with a team of nine other people,” Bellairs said. “My girlfriend, who works at another location, and I liked the area so much we said ‘hey, can we stick around and do some more work with y’all?’”

Bundles of radishes sit on the wash table waiting to be rinsed on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia. Tuesday was the first day harvesting radishes this fall.

The grant program is in its second of three years, but manager and veteran Dustin Cook said once it is complete, Veterans Affairs is going to look at data to determine whether the program could become permanent or even be implemented in other areas.

Veterans Urban Farm manager Dustin Cook takes a seat on a table on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia. Cook said as of Tuesday, the program has donated 11,300 pounds of produce to veterans this year.


Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture employee Carrie Hargrove said she believes “everybody has the ability to eat healthier” and being able to give those options to veterans has been wonderful.
Hargrove said a lot of veterans are gardeners themselves, so even if they do not take produce, it provides a community where they can talk about how their garden is doing each week.
And for the veterans who work at the farm, Hargrove said “just being outside has a lot of benefits” because it is different from the clinical setting of a hospital and can serve as recreational therapy.

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture employee Carrie Hargrove bands together a bunch of radishes on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia. “My favorite part of the program is meeting veterans at the produce donation stand each Thursday and making new connections,” Hargrove said.

Trays of scallion seedlings rest on a table on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia. The Veterans Urban Farm is a three-year program to help veterans develop work skills while donating fresh produce to the community.

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