The SAVE Farm, provides transitioning servicemembers with purpose and vocation through farming

Published: Dec. 13, 2016 at 11:41 AM CST
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On Veterans Day, we introduced you to Manhattan resident and Vietnam veteran Gary LaGrange, who’s helping transitioning servicemembers, specifically wounded warriors, find purpose and vocation through farming. This story is an update on the project.

“It began when my daughter (Shari LaGrange-Aulich), a clinical psychologist specializing in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injuries, suggested to me that we should open a training farm for servicemembers and veterans,” said Gary LaGrange, Co-founder of the SAVE Farm.

About four years ago, LaGrange started a pilot program on Ft. Riley to mentor wounded servicemembers in beekeeping and farming as a form of therapy and possible future job employment.

Since then, he’s mentored over 100 transitioning soldiers through the Warrior Transition Battalion on Ft. Riley. According to LaGrange, a quarter of that number are now farming in different states.

The pilot program on Ft. Riley is the seed of a much larger dream.

LaGrange and his daughter Shari, created a non-profit called the SAVE Farm. SAVE stands for Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education.

The plan is to build a full spectrum farm and campus for transitioning servicemembers interested in a career in agriculture.

“They will learn hands on, in an intensive program of about 11 months. They will go through an orientation phase, a journeyman phase and the last phase will be when we place them out in actual working farm, where they will manage and one day, actually work the farm,” said LaGrange.

The campus will also include a healing and transition center with everything from music and art therapy to marriage and family counseling.

“We plan on integrating a healing farm together with traditional and non-traditional treatment so that anybody who comes to this program, is able to choose some of the things that are best fit for where they’re at, at that time,” said Shari LaGrange-Aulich, co-founder of the SAVE Farm.

Associate Professor of Interior Architecture and Product Design at Kansas State University Vibhavari Jani, joined the project after meeting Gary LaGrange on Ft. Riley.

“He asked me if I could help him with the SAVE project design and involve our students and I thought ‘what a wonderful way to really contribute to the community we live in,’” said Jani.

Her fifth year graduate students are designing the facilities with feedback from local farmers, engineers and veterans.

“Hearing from the service members themselves and how they have experienced clinics in the past and what they wish they would’ve been, that’s had a lot to do with the influence on my design,” said Whitney Lawson, IADP graduate student.

Retired Lt. Col. Greg Platt, who served 37 years in the U.S. Army, attends the design presentations to provide feedback from his personal experience with clinics.

“Some of the counseling areas were far too confined. Some of the free areas had people approaching the service-members from behind them. Those would not be good,” said Platt.

The next step for the SAVE Farm board is to raise more than $20 million to make the building phase of the dream a reality.

For now, LaGrange is fundraising through the website and local charity events.

“I can see their lives changed. It’s so heartening to be able to call those that are on a farm now and hear from them that they’re not taking any medications any longer, they’re sleeping better…they feel like they’re alive and well and good again. I don’t think you ever heal from Post-Traumatic Stress. Those memories of war come back to haunt you, but you can mitigate that by helping with purpose and this SAVE Farm project does just that,” said LaGrange.

According to Gary LaGrange, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture resulted in “several appropriations for the farm in the 2017 federal budget to help kick start the project.”

The land for the farm LaGrange is looking to acquire is 10 miles outside of west Manhattan near the town of Keats.