“One of the things we’ve seen is [Veterans Affairs] absolutely can not handle the needs of veterans and guys coming back….but the guys coming back now have an opportunity to be healed and not let this war define them.” — Terrell “Spence” Spencer, owner of Across the Creek Farm in West Fork and U.S. Army Veteran
By Terrah Baker
Terrell Spencer of West Fork — or “Spence” as his friends and interns call him — knew he wanted to help veterans suffering with memories and trauma from the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. He knows how hard it is returning to America and every-day life from a war zone, because he experienced it first-hand.
During his tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2005, Spence conducted daily combat patrols and escorts at a time when violence was high. He saw things he won’t talk about now, and that have caused him mental anguish, emotional and physical trauma.
“The hard thing, therapeutically, is trying to not be destructive knowing that you brought so much chaos and destruction onto other folks,” Spence said.
Because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was unable to help Spence in the way he felt appropriate for healing — which is the case with most vets upon returning from war, he said — he had to find peace in his religious faith and farming when he got his first batch of chickens in 2007. It’s also through farming Spence found a way to help his fellow veterans.
“For some veterans it’s therapeutic and some it’s a business training. For some it’s both,” Spence explained. “For me it was both. I originally got into farming for therapeutic reasons and it was the vessels between that and my faith that carried a lot of healing for me and put me on the right path.”
So far, he’s had at least eight veterans employed on his GMO-free, pasture-raised chicken farm, Across The Creek Farm, located in West Fork. They are the sole provider of deli chicken to Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville — a move made in March by the cooperative. Spence and his interns sell at Wren’s Thicket Market on School Avenue, to personal customers and provide chicken and eggs to several local restaurants including BHK Cafe and Greenhouse Grille. Last year they raised about 3,500 chickens and this year will raise close to 10,000. Spence is always looking to expand and take on new business ventures, like becoming the regional distributor for GMO-free feed from Highland Nationals out of his garage.
The success of the farm in NWA has funded his operations, but he has a grant from the University of Arkansas, and now a donation from a start-up Vodka company, to thank for the positions.
Salute American vodka has donated $10,000 to Across the Creek Farm with the intent of hiring a veteran part-time, year-round. The company chose Arkansas as one of it’s pilot markets, and came with a marketing plan that gives something back to America’s soldiers. They donated the money through the Farmer Veteran Coalition — a nonprofit that provides grants, start-up costs and education to veterans entering sustainable farming.
“Salute American is meant to be more than a name — it’s our mission,” said Pete Kelly, CEO-founder of Better Brands BevCo. “We want to prove our patriotism by giving back and paying it forward.”
The vodka also touts American-blown glass, American-grown corn and wheat and for this has received the USA Certified Seal. The alcohol can now be found throughout NWA. Find out where by visiting saluteamerican.com/availability.
While none of the veteran interns have started their own farms just yet, Spence said they are staying close through education or further experience. The internship program has shown Spence the need for these programs is dire.
“One of the things we’ve seen is [Veterans Affairs] absolutely can not handle the needs of veterans and guys coming back. You have men coming back 22 and 23-years old. They stick them in counseling sessions with Vietnam vets,” Spence explained. “These Vietnam vets are still in a crippled mindset, but the guys coming back now have an opportunity to be healed and not let this war define them.”
That’s what farming helps with, Spence said. Through farming for a livable wage, veterans gain self-confidence, tap into their creative and nurturing side and are able to “take chaos and bring it into order.” Whether it’s building a raised bed, petting a baby goat or rounding up and feeding animals, farming offers vets a way to heal.
Spence said he’s still learning how to handle the internship in the most productive way possible, and hopes to offer housing so veterans from out of the area can take advantage of the program.
To learn more about Spence, his chickens, and his veteran interns, visit www.acrossthecreekfarm.com/the-inside-coop. FEATURE PHOTO: Logo for the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Find out more about their mission at www.farmvetco.org