Vacant greenhouses offer hope to homeless vets

Phil’s Florist closed after fire in January 2014

By Joshua Archer
Special to the Aroostook Republican

     Years after a devastating fire claimed a longtime Caribou business, a phoenix is just months away from rising out of the ashes to help end veteran homelessness.

     Phil’s Florist on outer Washburn Street in Caribou closed its doors after a fire in early January 2014.

     “It knocked the stuffing out of me and my wife,” owner David Corriveau said. “We just couldn’t come back and start over.”

     After the fire, Corriveau and his wife Patty looked at selling the property. They were approached by the United Veterans of Maine about purchasing the parcel with the goal of turning the former business into a place where homeless veterans can get a fresh start through planting seeds.

     The United Veterans of Maine, a group formed just over a year ago, coordinates local veteran services to help veterans in need.

     With sections of the business, including greenhouse space, still usable, president of the United Veterans of Maine John DeVeau expects to take advantage of the existing structures to begin planting this winter.

     “We want to turn around and start producing to get a funding source, so we don’t have to rely on federal grants and state grants,” DeVeau said.

     On top of giving homeless vets an opportunity for employment the United Veterans of Maine want to give former soldiers a place to stay. DeVeau’s group is working close with the community including the Caribou Planning Board and Maine State Housing Authority to help establish five residential cabins on the property by spring 2017.

     DeVeau said the vets who stay in the cabins will have easy access to services they need such as those provided by the VA clinic on the Cary Medical Center campus while working in seed production.

Along with seed planting will come distribution, warehousing, trucking, sales and more. He expects to employ close to 20 veterans when fully operational.

     “As we grow we’re going to be opening up more positions,” he said

     The United Veterans of Maine have partnered with United Farmer Veterans of America to help with seed, and for revamping the business, DeVeau said Easter Seals out of Portland has helped with renovations.

     The money that’s gone into purchasing the property and begin renovations has been privately funded. The United Veterans of Maine have established a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $150,000.

     “We fall under a 501(c)19, which is like the VFW. We’re all volunteer and no one receives a paycheck,” he said.

     This is the largest project to date DeVeau and his crew have taken on. Over the past year they built a cabin downstate for a homeless veteran as well as various other projects around Aroostook County.

     The future business, named after Aroostook County’s highest decorated soldiers, has been christened the Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope. They are two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients with Caribou area roots, 2nd Lt. Edward C. Dahlgren, a World War II veteran from Perham who died in 2006 at age 90, and Sgt. Donald S. Skidgel of Caribou, who was killed in action in 1969 while serving in Vietnam.

     “It’s unlimited what you can do here,” Corriveau said. “I think it’s high time we give our vets some hope.”

     The United Veterans of Maine will screen “Unknowns” at the Caribou Theater on Friday, November 11 at 1:30 p.m. The film will be followed by a spaghetti dinner at the Lister Knowlton VFW Post 9389 in Caribou at 4 p.m. Cost of admission and dinner by donations only. All proceeds benefit veterans in need in Aroostook County.

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