Christopher Hart started the Nathan Hale Foundation Veteran Center in 2006 and last year opened Three Harts Farm on Beaver Dam Road. It’s an agricultural and therapeutic nonprofit center for vets that he runs with the help of his wife, Diane Ribeiro Hart. 

This is part of an occasional series of short “as told to” profiles by Plymouth resident Carl Mastandrea, who describes himself as a “photographer, teacher, and storyteller.” It has been edited for clarity and length.

I just couldn’t focus at my job after 9/11. It just had an impact on me like nothing else in my entire life. Watching firefighters run into a building, knowing it might come down, that they might never see their families ever, ever again, really got to me. It was just amazing. Generations before us witnessed World War II, Pearl Harbor, this and that, and now this was our thing.

I was never in the military, and I had never done a thing for my country in my entire life. But I thought of my grandfather killed in the war on Thanksgiving Day, and how my great grandfather and uncles, and cousins served before that. So many people making the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and I just felt guilty. I thought, you know what, I’m going to start my own thing. I didn’t care what I did, even if I could just only help one person. So I started a nonprofit that provided service for vets including transportation to the VA and mental health counseling. We had a food pantry, and we had a state contract, but over the last four years, the budget cuts have just been just horrible.

So it got to the point where we bought this property nine years ago with no state funding, because we saw the budget cuts coming and knew that someday we were going to have to just cut loose of the state.

I wanted to create a nice place for vets that’s peaceful, where they’re not taking life, they’re giving life, they’re growing things, they’re doing things with their family, they’re eating with us, they’re playing pinball and pool, and helping us build, raise gardens, and work the register – pretty much everything. It’s just been absolutely wonderful. Last July was our first day, and now we’re a self-sufficient veterans organization. [Three Harts Farm relies most on sale from its hydroponic farm for revenue.]

I have veterans that come here that are hardcore dudes. Maybe two or three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, really tough, tough people. They always say to me, “What I really love about your farm [is] I feel safe here.” And I think that’s pretty cool. They bring their kids out back, watch Diane plant, or help water stuff. Sometimes we get a donkey for rides. We are always looking for fun things for kids to do. At Christmas, the whole place is all lit up and we bring in Santa Claus. I think it’s all great. It’s really awesome. When it’s done, it’s going to be something no one’s ever done before.

I used the name Nathan Hale, who was an American Revolution war hero, because of his quote: “I only wish to be useful.” I want to be useful to this country. I want to look out for our vets and provide services for them and have things here for them that they just don’t have anywhere else. Every veteran that’s ever been here, especially for the first time, says, “This place is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

This is what we should be doing for vets all over the country. This is absolutely beautiful. I dig it.

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