Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Vet First Inc. Set To Open Its Second Community Garden At Williamsburg Winery

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JAMES CITY-Vet First Inc., an organization that introduces gardening and farming to U.S. veterans, has plans to open its second community garden locally on the grounds of the Williamsburg Winery.

Michael Weatherly and his wife, Cierra, founded the organization in 2020 during the pandemic. The couple started their first community garden on the property of Ecco Adesso Vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley. Their goal through Vet First is to hire veterans and teach them how to grow produce and other agricultural skills and give them a sense of purpose as they transition from the military.

“Vets and active duty can come and be at one with nature,” Weatherly said. “We teach them about organic farming, and the produce we grow is given back to those in need through local food banks.”

Brad Roberts, director of operations for Vet First, is overseeing the start up of the new community garden at Williamsburg Winery. They will be utilizing two acres of the property and will also grow vegetables in a hoop house, or greenhouse.

“We will be growing every day vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and greens, all produce people need,” Roberts said. “We also have ten beehives and a local beekeeper will train veterans in beekeeping. Eventually, we want to make honey, soaps, and candles.”

The idea is to inspire veterans to grow their own gardens, Weatherly said.

“They do their training here, and then can take what they learn and grow at home,” he said.

Both Weatherly and Roberts come from military families, so it was important for them to help veterans.

“We are just very passionate about taking care of our veterans,” Weatherly said. “This is a great opportunity for a vet who is looking to transition out of the military and find out if they want to work in agriculture and want to work outside. Plus, it is good for the soul.”

Vet First has two missions through its community garden initiatives: caring for veterans and caring for people with food insecurity.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but it is hard to find good quality fresh produce, and the people who we help are so grateful,” Roberts said.

Planting is underway at the newest community garden at Williamsburg Winery with the goal of a fall harvest to be delivered to the local food banks. Vet First is looking to hire a veteran to help with the garden at the winery.

“We are trying to find the perfect match, someone who can grow with us,” said Weatherly, adding that they are also looking for volunteers to help maintain the garden.

Weatherly said eventually he would like to see similar gardens pop up at other farms and properties across Virginia.

“We have really big plans,” he said.

For more information on Vet First, visit its website.

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