|By Schonberg, Bethany Spicher|
Through farming, veterans across the country tend to the soil-and the wounds of war.
IT'S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband's planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I'm completely occupied with pictures of war. I've cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.
"This is an Aardvark," he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. "What does that do to the soil?" I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me
FOR THE PAST three seasons,
"This farm has definitely been part of my therapy," he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in
Across the U.S., there's a growing movement among veterans to fill this absence with agriculture.
When I talk with O'Gorman, he dispels one myth right away about farming and veterans. "Most people assume farming is healing because you're waltzing through fields of lavender with your basket picking vegetables," he says. "But you know farming. If you didn't have PTSD before, you sure will in a few years. These are kids whose world was shattered by 9/11. They joined the military at 19, and their reasons for joining were mission driven. Farming- now here's something with a mission. It's real, it's difficult, it's physical and mental, and it protects and serves a community of people."
In the next decade, according to the
With the help of a
Likewise, my husband, Micah, and I started farming in 2009 just after the documentary
"The last thing I remember when I was injured," says Burke, "was praying that if God would let me see my family again, I'd make my life worth saving." A 2009 meeting with O'Gorman of the
"The thing about farming," says Burke, "is that we focus on the future, not the past. The majority of veterans who come here have PTSD. They're thinking about the past when they go to sleep. Now they're planning for the future-what do we need to do tomorrow or next month in the field? In addition, the fellowship program allows them to work with children with disabilities, which enables them to focus on issues other than themselves."
Along with training in agriculture and business,
In 2010, Carlisle started Acta Non Verba, a garden-centered summer camp for kids, after reading a news story that cited
Last year, of the 75 children who came to summer camp, only 25 showed up for graduation and only 13 set up a savings account. "We brought the banker to the farm and everything," Carlisle laments. "The disinvestment in
The FVC bought a pickup truck for Acta Non Verba and continues to support Carlisle and other women veterans by connecting them online and in person through annual Empowering Women Veterans conferences. "They put us up in a nice hotel, and we got training in the legalities of running a farm, insurance, business planning," Carlisle says. "But the best thing is this group of brilliant women. We have almost daily check-ins now about how people are doing with parenting, school, farming, and work." This October, nine women-all friends from last year's conference- are traveling together to
"When you get out of the military, you've got to find your crew," says
WHEN MY HUSBAND and I started farming, we named our five acres
In 2013, filmmakers
"When you get out of the military, you've got to find your crew. For me, it's these amazing women farmers. We'd give our lives for each other."
In certain circles, young farmers have rock-star status, which can be empowering for veterans.
A battle to make things grow, no matter how arduous, might feel like peace.
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