As combat veterans return home, some find healing through agriculture, finding peace on farms or ranches as they reorient their skills from the destruction of war to the production of the fields.
“There’s always been this connection between post-military life and agriculture,” says Shawn Efran, director of “The Farm,” a short documentary produced by Tribeca Studios in association with Prudential. The film is the second produced through a 2017 Prudential partnership with Tribeca Studios intended to highlight the employment challenges faced by veterans as they transition to civilian life, and to demonstrate the value of the unique skills and talent veterans bring to the workplace. The first film focused on Prudential’s El Paso operations.
Sgt. Alvin York, one of the most decorated U.S. soldiers of World War I, famously was a farmer, and the USDA has been offering veterans loans and grants to help get ranch and farm operations off the ground.
“Whatever that medicinal property is,” Efran says, “was fascinating to me.”
Tribeca Studios recently spotlighted “The Farm” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and it’s now available on Prudential’s website, the Tribeca Film Festival website or via Amazon Prime.
Through the film, Efran--an award-winning filmmaker and former war correspondent--focuses on veterans as they take a six-week course on agri-business at Archi’s Acres, a hydro-organic farm founded by Colin and Karen Archipley, in Escondido, California, near Camp Pendleton. The Archipleys launched Archi’s Acres in 2006, not long after three of Colin Archipley’s close friends, all fellow vets, committed suicide. The course is also available to civilians.
“Service members are made up of just everyday people,” Colin Archipley says in “The Farm.” “They had a calling to join our military to serve our country or just some greater good. Leaving the military, you’ve lost your network. You can’t relate to people at home because you’ve changed so much. You can’t a find a job. So what’s your purpose?”
Archipley says farming can help provide a purpose as veterans find healing and discover untapped skills.
“As a nation we put so much effort into creating good soldiers, good Marines. We take people and turn them into extremely proficient fighters,” Efran says. “And then we do almost nothing to reverse that. We should value these people enough that we put just a little bit more effort into making that transition.”
Chuck Sevola, head of Veterans Initiatives at Prudential, agrees. “There are so many factors to take into consideration for our servicemen and women, ranging from the psychological shifts to finding quality, purposeful work,” says Sevola, “It’s all new terrain that requires a consistent and focused intervention from interested parties who understand the challenges that veterans face when beginning their journey into civilian life.”
The film focuses on how difficult the transition can be for veterans, but also shows how they are using their military skills to learn a trade and manage a business. They eventually build business plans, which they present to a panel of farmers, investors, bankers and business analysts.
Efran hopes that transition, from battle-scarred vet to entrepreneur, inspires viewers. He also hopes it will help people to think differently about how to help veterans use their skills.
As an example, Efran described a friend he made while covering the war in Iraq, who was a former Navy SEAL with three deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. The SEAL returned home, took up sculpting, then was homeless for a time.
“He eventually become a cop,” Efran explains, “not because it was what he wanted to do, but because it was the easiest thing to do—a place where his skillset was applicable. It’s probably the worst damn thing for him to be doing.”
Sevola also wants the film to take civilians beyond stereotypes.
“We’re proud of this film. Beyond our steadfast commitment to providing veterans with meaningful careers,” Sevola says, “it’s just as important that other companies do the same—to see creativity, entrepreneurship, ingenuity and integrity as combat veterans work to fit into a civilian economy. We’re hopeful that this film will encourage viewers to not only understand struggles some veterans face, but to embrace the value they bring back to civilian life when they come home.”
Prudential, which has a long history with the military, has been building its veterans programs since 2010. Notably, Prudential has hired nearly 300 employees at its Business & Technology Center in El Paso, Texas, where more than half are veterans or military spouses. With nearly one million unemployed military veterans in the United States, Prudential focuses on creating meaningful careers for veterans and their spouses, in part through education and job training.
The kinds of jobs offered in El Paso are fine for many, Efran says, “but there are people who need to be outside where they’re working in the fields and can see everything coming or people who just need something a little different.” That clear sight line can make the difference for a Marine who spent much of his time in close-quarters combat, for instance.
Efran—and Sevola—say—efforts to help veterans transition send them a clear message. Says Efran, “We value you, we value your service, we value what you can bring to the workforce. And we understand that everybody’s different and so there need to be different options.”