FARMINGTON – Sandy River Farm’s 2016 “Amazing Maize” will open Oct. 1 with a special emphasis on a new program for veterans.
This is the seventh year that the maze, a 10-acre cornfield with a series of paths cut into it, will be open for business, with hayrides, pick-your-own pumpkins and new this year-a bounce house for kids.
“We always try to feature a local organization,” Bussie York of Sandy River Farms said. “This year’s partnership with United Farmer Veterans of America is a token of thanks to our vets.”
Veterans, as well as active duty military, with an ID will get free admission to the maze all season. In addition, there will be representatives from the organization at the maze to promote the work they are doing.
UFV, a young nonprofit, works to create a network of veteran farmers across Maine.
“Maine is unique in that is has the most vets per capita than any other state in the country,” Jerry Ireland noted.
Ireland is the founder of UFV. He launched the business after discovering the benefits of an agricultural-based lifestyle just four years ago. A veteran himself, he never imagined he would lead the life of a farmer. When his father-in-law offered 82 acres of retired farmland, Ireland and his wife took the opportunity.
“Our goal, at the end of the day, is to have a farm that could survive and thrive even in its fifth generation,” Ireland explained. Ireland is accomplishing this goal by diversifying the products on his farm by doing a little bit of everything instead of only one thing all of the time. “If my daughter grows up and says she wants to do sheep production, then she can do that,” he said.
Ireland uses this model of production, along with the approach that farming should be looked at with a business lens, to create opportunities for veterans to get back on their feet. “We work to offer a hand up, not a hand out,” he said.
The program is offering a hand up in many ways. Not only does it strive to create a strong network of farmer vets-one that can be a pool of resources- for tools, knowledge and companionship-it also offers several different opportunities for vets who may not necessarily be interested in agriculture.
The newest program that UFV offers is the Cottage Project. The project focuses on getting homeless vets into simple cabins, built on the land of “mentor” farms. Any vet-owned farm can become a host site for one or more of the cottages.
The program not only offers a place to call home, something that can completely change a person’s feeling of self-worth, according to Ireland, but is also free of rent if the veteran volunteers on the farm for a few hours each week. “In addition,” Ireland said, “If that veteran wants a paying job they can come to the farm owner anytime and get 20 to 40 hours a week.”
To help fund the project, UFV is doing a “22 2X4 challenge.” The organization is trying to gather enough donated materials for 300 cabins within the next three months. People who would like to donate can buy 22 of the 2X4, or more, that are needed to build the cabins.
“The cabins will offer vets a place to go to catch their breath. To get some sleep and get away from the edge,” Ireland said and he added, referring to the homeless shelter in Portland, “It’s much easier to deal with problems in nature than it is standing in line on Preble Street fighting for a meal ticket.”
The corn maize can be accessed south of the farm at 755 Farmington Falls Road.
For more information about the “Amazing Maize” click here.
For information about United Veterans of America go to their facebook page here.