Veterans helping veterans at a local corn maze

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Veteran JP Espinosa, at left, is given a pick up truck by veteran Scott Flanders of Farmington on Saturday.
Veteran JP Espinosa of Parsonsfield, at left, is given a 1998 pick-up truck on Saturday by Scott Flanders of Farmington, also a veteran wanting to help him out.

FARMINGTON – A Farmington veteran reached out to help a fellow veteran he’d never met, thanks to the work of an innovative support program and the folks at a local corn maze.

After 16 years of military service, the last thing JP Espinosa expected was that he, like so many other veterans, would fall victim to post traumatic stress disorder.

“It wasn’t long after I left Fort Bragg when my PTSD kicked in,” he said. He attended counseling sessions and decided that he needed to get away from the reminders of his 12 years of active duty, much of it spent in Iraq that was followed by another four years of intelligence work for the U.S. Army’s special forces team at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Robert Elliot, a veteran in North Carolina who helps other veterans, gave Espinosa some advice of where to turn to next.

“He told me to take a little seed and nurture it,” Espinosa said holding his hands together to form a bowl shape. Although he had no farming experience, he began reading all he could about it. Then he and his wife Alice, drove all night from North Carolina to Arkansas to begin training work on a farm as part of the Armed to Farms program. The federal program provides sustainable agriculture training for military veterans.

Their first taste of farm life was something they both liked very much, so the Espinosas started looking for land to purchase in New England. Elliot advised the couple while in Maine to contact Jerry Ireland of Swanville, who had founded the United Farmer Veterans of America program to connect veterans with veteran farmers.

“We fell in love with the area,” Espinosa said. So much so the couple just recently purchased a 126-acre farm in the York County town of Parsonsfield, near the Maine-New Hampshire border.

From left to right: Alice and JP Espinosa of Parsonsfield, Scott Falnders of Farmington, Jerry Ireland, founder of United Farmer Vterans of America, and Bussie York of Farmington, who honored the veterans program at his family's annual corn maze.
From left to right: Alice and JP Espinosa of Parsonsfield; Scott Flanders of Farmington; Jerry Ireland, founder of United Farmer Vterans of America; and Bussie York of Farmington, who honored the veterans program at his family’s annual corn maze.

Just how the Espinosas arrived on Saturday at Bussie and Brenda York’s corn maze in Farmington to receive the donation of a pickup truck for their new farm is a perfect example of how the non-profit United Farmer Veterans works.

Each of the seven years that the York family has sponsored the 10-acre cornfield maze of paths and other family activities, they have picked an organization to feature and support. This year they chose United Farmer Veterans of America.

The nonprofit has built a network of farmer veterans that pool their resources, from knowledge and companionship to tools and major farming equipment. Donated farm equipment is repaired, if need be, and passed on to a veteran just starting out in farming and in need of equipment that can be prohibitively expensive to purchase.

When veteran Scott Flanders of Farmington heard about the veteran’s program through an article about the York’s corn maze support of it, he and his wife Ann decided that their spare pickup truck sitting in the driveway might just be of use to a veteran who is setting up a farm.

Enter the Espinosas.

On Saturday as rain fell, the Flanders’ 1998 green Chevy pick-up was parked by the entrance to the corn maze’s paths. It was in great shape after many years of tender loving care. Flanders, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, walked over to it, opened the driver’s side door and handed the keys to Espinosa. They both smiled.

Flanders, a survey technician for Main-Land Development Consultants of Livermore Falls, knows a lot about PTSD.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said because he got back home.”But I came to find out I was having problems.”

Diagnosed with PTSD, he found he had a hard time being around a lot of people at once. Working in a busy office with lots of things going on at once was out of the question. It’s the stress that gnaws away at him, he said quietly. His work with Main-land, a land use planning firm, is perfect because he usually works in the solitude of the woods. Flanders has faith that in general being outdoors can work the same magic for other veterans suffering from PTSD as his job has done for him.

“The United Farmer Veterans gives these guys a place to heal. Or else they drink themselves to death or eat a bullet,” Flanders said, noting the 22 suicides-a-day statistic Jerry Ireland cited.

“Working in the woods is healing. It’s peaceful and many veterans will have the work ethic to work on a farm. Jerry’s got the drive, the mission, a goal.”

Ireland noted that “not every veteran wants to be a farmer, but the program gets you going. We’ll get something rolling. That’s how you change the 22 suicides a day.”

As fall moves towards winter, the Espinosas have been right at work fixing drafty windows and doors in their old farmhouse in Parsonsfield.

“Once the weatherization is done, then it will be time to start working the land,” JP Espinosa said with a grin.

Read a related story here.

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