Ray Russell, formerly of Mt. Juliet who now lives in Gainesboro, started farm work as a way to keep himself occupied. Little did he know how much relief the work would give him.
“I just really busted my rear end and started getting the barn set up,” said Russell. “In that process, you know, every time I went down to feed the chickens they would all line up and come up to me, and I would interact with them. I haven’t been working since I was diagnosed. My late wife passed away four years ago and it really hit me with my PTSD. So, while I was working the farm and everything I saw how much it was helping me. I had been seeing a therapist but I hadn’t really been feeling good, and I noticed what the farm was doing for me, so I thought, I got to make other people feel the way that I do.”
What Russell came up with was a project called Veterans Hill Farm, a 30-acre piece of land he’s currently in the process of converting into a refuge for veterans like himself who suffer from PTSD.
What Russell hopes will happen is that those who suffer can come work and live on the farm, where they will learn skills such as yoga, martial arts and cooking and hopefully find the same peace that Russell himself was able to find.
“We have a farm-fresh chef who wants to come over here and teach how to make farm-fresh food, healthy and easy” said Russell. “That’s a big thing right there, because people don’t realize how much health issues are attributed to PTSD. There’s a ton of heart attacks involved with PTSD, because anything stress related, we get multiplied.”
From his first purchase of 10 chickens, Russell has grown his animal population to 32 chickens, three pigs, four ducks, four turkeys, four ostrich eggs in incubation, five rabbits with 10 more on the way and two dogs. There is also a plan to bring in 10 dairy goats.
“What animals do, it’s a great source of therapy, hands-on,” said Russell. “So, what we’re trying to do is get the soldiers a sense of accomplishment. They come out here, they work the land, they get their hands dirty, they get the food from the evening and we have communal dinners. I want to provide health and wellness.”
Therapists recommended by Veterans Affairs will come to the farm once every two weeks, and a local church will have a partnership with the farm.
For now, though, Russell acknowledges that he has a lot of work to do to make Veterans Hill Farm a reality.
“Every day, I’m doing something,” said Russell. “It’s just, that 30 acres is the largest thing right now, we need to get it cleared and fenced.”
Russell is also raising money on his GoFundMe page to pay for a solicitor’s license and possibly hire some help to clear the land.
“We just need a lot of hands right now,” said Russell. “Money is a big thing, I hate to ask for it, but it takes money to do something like this, but mainly we just need hands to help out with the work we have to do around here.”
The GoFundMe page started for the project has already raised $1,430 that will be put toward clearing the land and obtaining a solicitor’s license.
Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery has pledged to donate 25 cents for every Hoppy Tonk IPA sold, as well as 15 percent of the store’s sales Nov. 11 to Veterans Hill Farm.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Russell. “We’re very thankful to them for what they’re doing for us. I just want to get the word out there. People don’t realize how much help is needed for PTSD. Right now 22 of us are dying every day from suicide, and we only represent 1.3 percent of the population. We represent a higher percent of the population with suicide than any other group.”
More information about Veterans Hill Farm can be found at veteranshillfarm.com. The GoFundMe page is at gofundme.com/veterans-hill-farm, and Russell may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.