Local Family Starts Farm for Veterans

After five tours of duty with the United States Army, Charles Estanol knows exactly how hard it is for veterans to reintegrate into society, which is why he wants to lend his expertise to recent combat veterans and help facilitate their transitions back into society.

Estanol and his wife, Jennifer, are working to set up a program which will offer recent combat veterans a safe, secluded place mentally and physically to work through their experiences so that they can move on with their lives. The program will take place on a farm where veterans will work and pray side by side with Estanol.

“I want to provide a time and a place where a guy can come and process what he’s been through,” Estanol said. “He can be in a place where someone can relate to him and know what he’s been through.”

The program will be faith-based, but will be about more than prayer. It will be about understanding and healing, Estanol said. He wants to target the program to combat veterans, who he believes will have the hardest time coming back to society. In addition to a host of traumatic experiences, combat veterans often carry an incredible amount of guilt.

“I think the Gospel is the only thing that can free a man from that,” Estanol said.

Not only does the Bible have a lot of comfort to offer the veterans, he said, but it is full of images of death and resurrection. By combining religious council with the therapeutic effects of working on a farm in a safe, calm and controlled environment, Estanol believes the veterans will be able to focus themselves, process what they’ve been through and emerge from the program ready for the next chapter of their lives.  

“I want them to plant a garden and see its fruits,” he said.

Estanol believes that the imagery of life, death and resurrection on a farm will speak to the veterans and help them to ease their minds.

“They can process what they’ve been through, put it to death and move on,” he said.

And, Jennifer Estanol said, they’re already receiving positive feedback from other veterans. In particular, upon hearing the idea, a young soldier in their church told her how much he wished he had had the opportunity to participate in such a program when he was discharged.

“I wish we could have something like this for every soldier,” Jennifer Estanol said.

Veterans who come back from combat often struggle to reconnect with the relationships in their lives, feel disconnected because of a lack of understanding of what they’ve been through or are simply not able to jump right back into society, Estanol said.

In particular, servicemen who have been deployed multiple times struggle to reconnect with society because they have gotten out of practice at fully reconnecting.

“The more you go, when you’re home, your mind isn’t there,” Estanol said.

Estanol, who was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq a combined five times, first as an Army Ranger and then as an Army Chaplain, said that by the time of his return from his third deployment, coming home was hard, especially because he was single and did not havea home to return to. But, he said, he was able to turn to his faith.

“If it wasn’t for my faith, I don’t know how far I would have gone,” he said. 

It is Estanol’s experience as an Army Chaplain that motivates him to bring young veterans together to work and to heal. He will focus on young, single men, who are Christian or are open to Christianity and the Bible.

“You can’t force plants to grow healthy, you can only set the conditions. In the end, you have to wait, and it’s the same with spiritual growth,” he said.

Estanol wants to bring the veterans together to the farm, to live and eat with his family, to unplug from technology.

“It can be a place where I can plant seeds, and, I hope, they can grow to have healthy relationships and find a vocation of their calling,” he said.

Estanol emphasized that the program is not designed as treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), but that he it is certainly open to veterans who have completed treatment for PTSD.

He sees it more as a counseling program, stating that while he was deployed he enjoyed being able conduct “counseling in stride” and walk with fellow soldiers to help them work through the stresses of combat.

 Many soldiers do not wish to be associated with the stigma of therapy and do not like receiving treatment on base, Estanol said. But, he said, he conducted weekly mentoring sessions, where soldiers could process what had happened that week.

“Really the most fruitful time I had was when I was in Iraq for 14 months,” he said.

The Estanols are planning their first session for the summer of 2013 and hope to enroll about five veterans. The program will be about three months long and they hope to host it on the 10 acre farm outside of Willamina, which they are currently renting.

Currently, the Estanols are applying for a 501(c)3 certification which would make the program an official non-profit organization.

The farm boasts a green house, apple trees and rolling pasture land. So far, Estanol has filled the green house with everything from tomatoes and cabbage to lettuce and squash. He plans to run pasture-raised cattle on the land as well.

The Estanols plan to model their farm after the Polyface Farm, which is run by the Salitan family. The farm, which is located in Swoope Virginia, does not use pesticides or herbicides, produces meat from pasture-raised animals and operates like a natural, self-sufficient ecosystem, with a rotating crop selection.

Perhaps the Estanol farm’s most unique feature is a contraption called a chicken tractor. The chicken tractor is a movable chicken coup. The idea behind the chicken tractor is that the chickens are raised in a humane environment with maximum access to air and sunlight and are moved daily. The daily rotation means that chickens can primarily feed off the land and act as natural pesticides, eating bugs that might otherwise infest plants. Similarly, the chickens’ feces becomes natural fertilizer for the land.

Once the program has been established, it will be called the Plowman’s Farm, drawing inspiration from Luke 9:62, which states, “but Jesus said to him, ‘no man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’”

Estanol hopes to help guide the new veterans through spiritual growth and healing as they start the next chapter of their lives.

 “The image of the plow indicates a true follower,” he said.

Now that Estanol has been discharged from the army, he and Jennifer are excited to have found a home in the West Valley where they can begin the rest of their lives. The farm is a beautiful place to raise their three children, Micah, Jedidiah and Elisha, and a place where they hope to help veterans to look forward to their own new beginnings.