Veterans Healing Farm searches for new site in Henderson County

HOUSE HUNTERS: The Veterans Healing Farm is seeking to raise $5 million to purchase a new location in Henderson County and expand its offerings year-round, says Marine Corps veteran and Executive Director Alan Yeck, left, pictured with operations manager and Air Force veteran Megan Landreth. Photo by Jessica Wakeman

In January, the Veterans Healing Farm, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mental health of veterans and their families, received notice that it must find a new location by Thursday, Aug. 15. But according to its operations director, Air Force veteran Megan Landreth, the move is an opportunity for the farm to find its “forever home.”

The current 1.77-acre property in Hendersonville has worked well since the Veterans Healing Farm was founded by John and Nicole Mahshie in 2013. The farm has since grown to four staff members and 300 volunteers. But, Landreth explains, “This is a space that we’ve inherited, and we’ve outgrown it.” It has sparse room for parking and only two portable toilets serving as restrooms, and it relies on well water. “We need indoor space and multiple classroom spaces. Our newsletter will go out this weekend, and before the end of the week, we’ll have workshops that are full for May. We need a bigger area.”

The Veterans Healing Farm is seeking to raise $5 million to purchase a new location and expand its offerings year-round, says Marine Corps veteran and Executive Director Alan Yeck. Farm leaders plan to create an endowment with $3 million of the funding raised to ease future pressure on donations. He says the farm has raised half a million so far; a local veteran is currently offering a $50,000 match on donations through Saturday, June 1.

Healing at the farm

The Mahshies founded the Veterans Healing Farm to provide a community focused on the emotional well-being of veterans, in particular addressing the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. “We look at the organization as a national nonpharmaceutical intervention model,” explains Yeck, who joined the staff in 2021.

Agritherapy, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes as providing benefits in both vocational training and behavioral health care, is among the primary programs at the Veterans Healing Farm. “Being together with hands in the soil — outside, growing — is the healing part,” says Yeck. “We’re not a production farm; it’s the process that’s important.”

He stresses that no one is required to know anything about agriculture to volunteer at the farm. “When they come, they can say, ‘I want to learn about bees’ or ‘I want to learn about organic farming,’” he explains. “They’ll be taught. They’ll be mentored.”

Organic produce  — including cucumbers, peppers, kale, green beans, squash, sweet potatoes, strawberries and blackberries — is grown in the main garden, as well as in vertical structures for those with limited mobility. One team, called the “tomato squad,” is dedicated to growing the plentiful fruit and is overseen by local tomato expert Craig LeHoullier.

The farm donates its bounty to residents of domestic violence and homeless shelters and to patients and guests at the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center, among others. “We give everything away — all the produce we grow,” Yeck says. He estimates the farm has donated 70,000 pounds of produce in the past 10 years.

Beekeeping is another beloved program with its own team of volunteers, led by a Coast Guard veteran. Last year it produced 8 gallons of honey. “Beekeepers keep what they want, but otherwise we give the honey back to the veteran community,” Yeck says.

Volunteers can also tend an herb garden of 68 medicinal plants, led by herbalist Rebecca Vann. The herbs focus on the relief of common health concerns for veterans: sleep quality, anxiety and inflammation. “With Rebecca’s direction, [volunteers] process different teas and tinctures and salves and balms,” Yeck says. “We always say that if we can get a veteran taking one less pill from Pfizer by using a medicinal plant, then it’s a victory.”

In addition to its hands-in-the-dirt activities, the Veterans Healing Farm hosts numerous workshops. In 2023, it hosted 49 workshops serving 500 people. Many classes happen on the building’s front porch, as the indoor area is limited. (Its main office space is a cargo-style Conex container.)

All the workshops have a mental health focus, whether they address artistic pursuits like painting or more direct mental health topics like grief management or suicide prevention. (The main building’s small stage is named for U.S. Marine Cpl. Joshua Alexander McArdle, a 2002 T.C. Roberson High School graduate and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who died from suicide in 2013.) The suicide prevention workshops are available to all. “While the veteran community is disproportionately affected by suicides, it’s a crisis in the nation, and so we open [these workshops] up to anybody who wants to come,” Yeck says.

Canine therapy with Appalachian Dog Training’s therapy dogs, guitar lessons, and crafting classes, such as leather cuff making and knife forging, take place at the main building. Veterans can also participate in off-site activities, like hikes, kayaking trips, equine therapy and a book club at a local coffee shop. Landreth also organizes outings for veterans, like Asheville Tourists baseball games.

The farm’s nine beehives will be transported to the new location, wherever that is. If a new space isn’t found by the mid-August deadline, the farm’s beekeeping team may take home hives to foster, says Landreth. “Foster bees!” she says with a laugh.

The farm plans to do one more planting and one harvest before its August move.

New digs

The Veterans Healing Farm is tucked into a quiet valley in Horse Shoe along the Ecusta Trail. It’s a part of Hendersonville with more cows and horses than residential developments and highways. The staff’s wish is to find a similarly idyllic location in Henderson County — although ideally one connected to a septic system and electric grid. The Veterans Healing Farm relied on solar panels and a generator for backup until Duke Energy extended local power lines to the property pro bono last year.

COUNTRY LIFE: The Veterans Healing Farm learned in January that it had to vacate the property in August. As a result, the farm will only do one planting and harvest this year, says Executive Director and Marine Corps veteran Alan Yeck. Photo by Jessica Wakeman

The farm seeks 12-15 acres of property. Four acres will be dedicated to farming, including a greenhouse and a hydroponics cultivation system, which grows plants year-round by placing them in nutrient-rich water instead of dirt.

Some of the land will be used for parking. Farm events, such as the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, can draw hundreds of cars. At the current space, neighbors let the farm use their property for overflow parking.

The wish list for a new location includes indoor plumbing, a full kitchen, private space for visiting therapists and, most importantly, more indoor classroom space. Those facilities would allow the nonprofit to serve veterans year-round, rather than only in the warmer months. Up until now, the Veterans Healing Farm has relied on local businesses, as well as a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Hendersonville, which have been generous about sharing their space in the colder months.

Remaining in Henderson County is a priority. Yeck notes that Asheville has the Charles George VA and the Veterans Restoration Quarters transitional housing and emergency shelter within the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry. But there are fewer resources for veterans in Henderson County.

Licensed clinical social worker and Marine Corps veteran Kevin Rumley agrees that resiliency support for veterans in rural areas is crucial. “Veterans in rural areas may face challenges accessing care due to geographic distance and limited transportation options,” Rumley says. “And rural communities often have limited mental health infrastructure, exacerbating the issue.”

Rumley says rural areas provide “unique stressors related to their transition from military to civilian life,” such as social isolation and lack of employment opportunities.

Adds Marine Corps veteran Daniel Conway, “When it comes to mental health, it is so important to provide help in a timely manner. … Expecting anyone to travel hours away for services is setting them up for failure.”

Conway also appreciates that the Veterans Healing Farm incorporates veterans’ families. “Many times, the family are kind of forgotten about, but they sacrifice and endure so much as well. Having an environment for both the veteran and their family to heal is so important.”

Home is out there

The staff is optimistic about finding a dream property. Community response to the news of the farm’s move has been “tremendous,” Yeck says, noting the offices of U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Ted Budd and U.S. Reps. Chuck Edwards (NC-11), Jennifer Balkcom (NC-117) and Eric Ager (NC-114) have all contacted them asking how to help. Yeck and Landreth have toured multiple properties in Henderson, Buncombe, Haywood and Transylvania counties, but none have been quite the right fit.

The staff continues to look at properties and raise funds. “I don’t go by a Coke machine without checking for change for the farm,” Yeck jokes. Although the farm has relied on grant writers in the past, there is less focus on grant-seeking at the moment because some grant application periods had already closed for the year, he explains.

“What I believe is that people that can write six- and seven-figure checks want to help — they just don’t want to be used,” Yeck says. “I’m trying to get through those barriers and provide our 990 [IRS form], provide financials, provide our plans, invite them in. … Come and see the farm. Meet the veterans.”

“We’ll give any information,” Landreth says. “Whatever they need to know about what we’re here for and what we do.”

Yeck strongly believes “angels” will appear to help the Veterans Healing Farm find a new home and expand. “We need little angels and we need big angels,” he says. “They’re out there. We know they are.”


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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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