When it comes to combining passions, Ben Martin knows what he’s doing. The veteran and winemaker is in his fifth year of owning and operating Dauntless Wine Co., which serves the veteran community by employing veterans and sending proceeds to veteran support groups.
Martin, a Kiva borrower from Forest Grove, Oregon, is excited about the future of veterans in the winemaking community.
“There's just something about it that just reconnects you with the earth. I feel that particularly combat vets were raised and reprogrammed into this very disruptive mindset, you know?” Martin explained. “We go in and we're institutionalized and then when we get out. We're not reconditioned back into the society. So all we know is destruction. I think [veterans] need that balance, and growing and tending the land is that balance.”
Martin believes that the connection between people and the Earth on a smaller scale is what can really make a difference.
“It's not a big monoculture where you're just doing it for big industry and big agriculture,” Martin added, “but you actually have a connection with all the plants and animals that you're raising. That's where the benefits really are.”
Dauntless originally began as a passion project between 3 Iraq war veterans, Martin and his 2 friends Ryan Mills and Paul Warmbier. While the other 2 have stepped back to focus on careers in other fields, they’re still part of executive decisions and larger events involving the winery.
What makes Dauntless unique is its commitment to a specific community. As part of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, Dauntless sends 100% of its after-tax profits to veteran groups. Additionally, they hire veterans and those with “one degree of separation” from vets: spouses, children, friends.
Being connected to this massive community paid off when it came time to apply for a Kiva loan.
“It was our first time making a rosé in 2016 and we're like, ‘Oh crap, we have to bottle this sooner than everything else and we have no consistent revenue.’ So we're thinking, how are we going to afford this bottling? And that's when we applied for the Kiva loan,” Martin said.
The $10,000 Kiva loan, supported by 194 lenders, is what helped Martin’s crew bottle their 2016 editions and assist with payouts. His loan was part of Kiva’s Direct-to-Social-Enterprise program, which provides loans directly to small, for-profit, socially impactful organizations that may be too large for microfinance but too small for traditional finance. Dauntless is one of the organizations supported by Kiva due to its potential to strengthen the communities and reduce poverty by expanding formal employment, scaling innovative social solutions and driving sustainable economic growth on a larger scale.
“It was a lifesaver at that moment,” Martin said of his loan. “People definitely rallied to help raise funds. It also helped that at the same time, Oregon Wine Press gave us the Persons of the Year award, just out of the blue. We got that Wine Press article at the same time we asked for the Kiva loan, so those 2 really helped us with our launch. It was really seamless.”
Martin wants to spread the word about the scientific and historically proven advantages of the winemaking community and veteran community blending together, as the mental and physical benefits are endless.
“Just the task of touching dirt is good for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Before any of these studies have come out, Roman legionnaires were giving land to their soldiers after their terms of service, so they could tend to it and farm. So, soldiering and farming have been intertwined for millennia. I think we've just stepped away from that or forgotten that from our roots. Now, it's our mission to bring that back into the fold,” Martin said.
The future is bright for Dauntless. Martin is always thinking about applying for another Kiva loan, due to the success of the last one and his dreams for the future.
“Eventually, I plan on starting on a nonprofit arm,” Martin said. “I’m working with three other veterans right now on that, and the nonprofit arm will be the agricultural side of things. Then, everything that is produced comes back here. It's a holistic farm-to-table concept.”
And that’s where it all circles back for Martin and his veteran community: getting down into the dirt and really exploring life after war.
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