- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

BRAZIL, Ind. (AP) - Creating something by hand gives enjoyment to the staff at Backyard Farm and Garden USA in Brazil.

The small business run by veterans creates custom wood and metal work. Chicken coops, sheds, playhouses, playground structures, even a tiny house are among the handmade items they have made.

“I got started because I wanted to work with veterans directly,” said owner Mark Smith, a former Army medic who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, and moved to Brazil in 2010. A native of California, Smith said he chose to relocate to Indiana to be close to a friend who is also a veteran. His background is in nonprofit work and the arts, but he got into woodworking and making portable buildings to have something to do with his hands.

“There is a therapeutic quality to using your hands and creating something,” Smith told the Tribune-Star. “I feel that woodworking works for veterans. It seems to be a good fit.”

For about two years, Smith has been working with other veterans in the Brazil area to build colorful and creative chicken coops and other outdoor buildings. A current project is a tiny house on wheels that he is building for a Wabash Valley woman who is downsizing her life. The project includes a second small structure that will serve as a toilet and bath area.

“We used to use scrap pieces of wood and refurbished wood,” Smith said, “but I found a local sawmill that can provide what we need, and I try to focus on using local businesses.”

The projects built by the veteran crew have a popular following. One business along the newly reconstructed U.S. 40 displays its firewood for sale in a BFG custom-built structure. Other sheds that have been displayed near the downtown sold out, but new projects are always in the works.

Smith said he has probably built and sold close to 100 chicken coops so far, and the orders for custom-made structures are staying steady.

In fact, the woodworking side of the business has expanded to now include a blacksmith shop, a stonework shop and an automotive repair business. Those are occupations that veterans can fit into while bonding with each other, and supporting each other in their lives after military service.

“We try to be flexible for the veterans to accommodate their needs, such as trips to the doctor or veterans hospital,” Smith said.

As he welcomed veterans as employees, word spread in the community about a vet-friendly employer. John “J.D.” Kreilein is one of those veterans working at the shop since 2014, and he is now the woodshop manager, while he apprentices as a blacksmith.

As a retired disabled veteran, Kreilein said he has seen the difference the business has made in the lives of many veterans. One veteran now has his own chicken coop and sells eggs for profit. Others are getting job training, and the men help each other get paperwork filled out to apply for benefits, Kreilein said.

“You have to learn to survive together,” Kreilein said of the military background that the veterans share. “That makes us more cohesive as a family. That makes us care for each other.”

One of the current projects inside the shop on South Franklin Street is a playhouse that was originally being built as a home for a homeless veteran. Other projects are a dog house with a roof that pops up for easy cleaning, a bench with the letters BFG being carved into the seat for the office shop, and a coffee table.

A small birdhouse with a shingle roof is also under construction as a project for one of the disabled local residents who comes by to work with the veterans.

“We have a guy who comes in, and all he can do is sweep the floor and clean up some, but it’s something he can do, and he gets some extra cash for doing it,” Kreilein said.

The wood shop has grown from its original location on South Depot Street, where the blacksmith shop remains, to its Franklin Street site with both the wood shop and automotive shop. Many of the equipment and tools used have been donated, but others have been purchased by Smith.

“I’m glad to see something like this come around,” Kreilein said of the veteran-focused business. “I could have used something like this when I got out of the Army.”

The cost for the custom-built work depends on the project. Smith’s website offers a cost structure depending on size and materials used.

“Everything we do is a custom order,” Smith said, adding that the best part of the business is that it helps veterans directly with employment and skills.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1mSbjtL

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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