Local nonprofit encourages veterans to experience the therapeutic benefits of gardening

Every Saturday from 8:30 until noon, Don Peters II, Kym Sanchez and a group of veterans and volunteers meet at the Taos Veterans Farming Project at Sunset Park. Right now they are working on the Taos Veterans Memorial Garden.

The Memorial Garden is part of Not Forgotten Outreach Farm, a collaborative project that includes the Albuquerque VA, Taos Land Trust, La Montañita Co-op, Northern New Mexico College Veterans Green Job Academy, New Mexico State University County Extension Office, local farmers and local nonprofit Not Forgotten Outreach. Its goal is to provide a program so veterans and Gold Star families can learn the basic skills and best practices for sustainable farming as a business or hobby.

“They can also gain from the significant therapeutic and community benefits that gardening provides,” said Not Forgotten Outreach Executive Director Don Peters II.

Peters is a disabled combat veteran. He is also certified in neuromuscular therapy and sport massage. He served as President for the Alaska Disabled Veterans Sports Program, Inc. and has volunteered in many other civic and government organizations.

“Everybody is welcome,” said Kym Sanchez, Not Forgotten Outreach President. She is a combat veteran and also a surviving family member, since her husband was killed in the war. Not Forgotten Outreach began as a memorial to Sergeant Paul Timothy Sanchez who was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq, on January 14th, 2007.

Sanchez and Peters moved to Taos in September 2012. They recognized the giving spirit of Taos and began Not Forgotten Outreach, an all-volunteer organization, last February.

The land they use is leased from SunsetPark and ValverdeCommons. They already have goat pens and are currently removing small trees from the VeteransMemorialGarden.

“The goats cleaned the land in 28 hours,” said Sanchez. “They were our first volunteers.”

Progress every week

Last Saturday volunteers set the post for a gate, cleaned up goat pens, spread manure and repaired problems in an electrical fence.

“From the beginning we received support from veterans, surviving family members and many people from Taos,” said Sanchez. “They came to work, they donated money and tools, and they brought their little kids to see the goats…We are so thankful to the community for this organization is just taking off.”

Still, the project needs all the help it can get from the community. Not Forgotten Outreach has a wish list and people can make donations for different purposes. Farm and garden equipment, wood, manure, composting material, more agricultural land and plant donations are always welcomed.

Not Forgotten Outreach is planning a fundraising dinner late in October and a Crowd-Source funding campaign.

“But most importantly, we want people to know about our project and invite veterans and surviving families to join us.” said Peters “We also need more volunteers to come and make the MemorialGarden paths.”

“The next big thing we need is a solar pump to run the irrigation system,” said Sanchez.

“We also want to bring attention to the over 2000 surviving family members in New Mexico,” said Peters. “But they are difficult to find, that’s why we need to get the information out there.”

Last August Not Forgotten Outreach received a grant from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to develop and teach curricula on basic gardening and horticultural practices for veteran apprentices during one year.

“I would love to give any veteran who wants to be involved in the project one or two raised beds so they can grow whatever they want and keep the produce,” said Sanchez.

Not Forgotten Outreach already has eight raised beds at the Taos Men’s Shelter.

“They have squash, tomatoes, beans, lettuce and more,” said Sanchez. “Corn is coming up beautifully, too. It has been a wonderful experience for the men at the shelter.”

This is just the beginning. Sanchez said that they expect to have eight more raised beds next spring.

“Getting your their hands in the dirt is very therapeutic,” she said.

Goals and expectations

The agricultural project will also support New Mexico Veterans participating in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.

“Our goal is to make money selling the produce and use it to send veterans to events like the National Veterans Golden Age Games, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, among others,” said Peters. “Disabled veterans report better health, new friendships and a better quality of life when participating in adaptive sports.”

Next year they are planning to create a cornfield maze and a squash and pumpkin garden.

“The kids can come, play in the garden and then pick some pumpkin,” Sanchez said.

A message from Don Peters II: Our choice as a society

As a community, we have a choice. We have all these returning soldiers coming back from this conflict and the Viet Nam veterans. We either can help them acquire therapeutic and recreational abilities that will encourage them to become the business owners and the civic leaders of the future or we can potentially use our tax dollars to pay for these soldiers’ drug and alcohol-abuse treatments, incarceration or sadly, for burials for suicides.

When soldiers come back from war we are looking for a buddy our left and a buddy our right. When society understands this and becomes our buddies on our left and our buddies on our right, then we will become the next civic leaders. It’s that simple.

To find out more about Not Forgotten Outreach, Inc. or to make a donation, visit

www.notforgottenoutreach.org, https://www.facebook.com/NotForgottenOutreach or call (575)224-1503.