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'Boots to Roots' helps veterans transition to farming careers
Fayetteville Observer - 9/28/2020
Sep. 28--When Aaron Paplaczyk got out of the Army in 2018, he wanted to find a career he could enjoy.
He found it in urban farming.
Paplaczyk founded Pappy's Produce and Urban Farm, a small farm in Fayetteville where he grows greens, herbs, flowers and more.
"My favorite thing is taking a seed and watching it grow through the whole process," said Paplaczyk. "I feel like it forces me to become more patient and slow down a bit. And then I get to enjoy it at the end."
Paplaczyk was one of the participants in a "Boots to Roots: A Farm Tasting" event held recently at Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills. The program was a fundraiser for the nonprofit Veteran's Farm of North Carolina, which helps veterans transition to careers in agriculture. More information is available at vfnc.org.
At the event, veterans-turned-farmers like Paplaczyk provided ingredients that were used in dishes created by Napkins restaurant, which is at Dirtbag Ales. Guests who paid $65 each or $120 for a couple got to sample the dishes as well as some of Dirtbag's brews and learn about the Veteran's Farm of North Carolina's programs.
Robert Elliott, executive director of the group, said he knows firsthand the benefits that a farming career can have for veterans.
Elliott said he grew up on a farm in Franklin County.
"I hated it," Elliott said. "I joined the Marines to get away from farming."
But after his military career ended, Elliott returned to the family farm. It turned out to be a lifeline.
"I found it hard to transition back to civilian life," Elliott said. "Farming saved my life. Come to find out I was good at farming."
Today, Elliott owns Broad River Hemp Company in Fayetteville. And through Veteran's Farm of North Carolina and the Soldier to Agriculture Program at Fort Bragg, he teaches veterans basic agriculture skills.
"It turned into where I was working with veterans way more than farming," Elliott said.
Elliott said a lot of veterans who get into farming don't know the basics of what is a difficult profession. The Veteran's Farm of North Carolina helps them with everything from learning to operate equipment to working with livestock.
Two "Boots to Roots" programs were held Sept. 20 at Dirtbag Ales. All 100 tickets were sold, the organization said. About 25 businesses contributed to the event.
Under a gazebo at Dirtbag Ales on a breezy evening, guests gathered and sipped beer or other beverages while they waited for the tasting to begin.
Stations were set up at which the dishes, all prepared by Napkins and featuring local ingredients, were served. The dishes included empanadas de chorizo (empanadas filled with a spicy sausage, roasted peppers, onions and melted cheese) and bistecca con chimichurri (marinated, grilled beef with late summer vegetables).
Boots to Roots: A Farm Tasting fundraiser
A crowd gathers at Dirtbag Ales Sept. 20 for a "Boots to Roots" A Farm Tasting" fundraiser. The event raised money for the Veteran's Farm of North Carolina, which helps military veterans transition to careers in agriculture.
Ray Parnell, owner of Parnell Acres farm, contributed a pumpkin patch to the event. The pumpkins, which were for sale, were scattered among hay bales and mums.
"Robert (Elliott) reached out to me and said, 'Hey, I need pumpkins. I said, 'I have pumpkins'," Parnell said. "I'm retired Army, so doing this is just a way to give back."
Tim Craver worked as an Army medic before getting into farming. He was manning one of the tables at the "Boots to Roots" event.
"I like the hard work. It's a challenge," he said. "There are lots and lots of great opportunities as long as they're willing to work."
David Pflugfelder is an Air Force veteran who owns Cathis Farm in Lillington, where he raises pigs, chicken, cows and sheep. Pflugfelder said he is also looking into hosting agriculture tours on his farm.
Pflugfelder said he believes the farm is helping his children Caleb, Thor and Isla learn the value of hard work. The farm's name is a combination of his children's names.
"It's fun for me and my wife," he said, "but it's shaping them."
Army veteran Matthew Perton was enjoying a "date night" with his wife, April. The couple said they like to support local ventures.
"It's a chance to taste the local produce," Perton said as he and April waited to eat. "We like food, we like beer and we like local."
Staff writer Rodger Mullen can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3561.
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