Under the best of conditions it’s difficult to find and maintain work. Imagine trying to do so while learning to adjust to a closed head injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a feeling of alienation from the culture in which you grew up.
This is the experience of a huge percentage of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The rate of unemployment in this group is 10%, one-third of the homeless population are veterans, and 20% of suicides in the United States are committed by veterans.
Veterans Farm, an organic blueberry farm in the Jacksonville area of Florida, takes a life-affirming approach to empowering disabled veterans to heal, return to work, and reintegrate into American society. It was begun by Adam Burke, a veteran who came back from Iraq with PTSD and a closed head injury. Seeking to come to terms with his disabilities and wartime experiences, he remembered peaceful and satisfying work on his family’s farm growing up. He realized “horticulture therapy” provided an ideal environment for rehabilitation, and talked his wife into buying a small farm.
With the help of Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer with the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, he started growing blueberries on 2 1/2 acres, got 5 other veterans on board, and began collaborating with other organizations. They now have 8 additional acres and a 14-week program in place that provides a stipend to the veterans while they learn farming skills. They will also be able to ease back into the social rhythms of civilian society by selling berries at farmers markets, to local stores, and at the farm. And work with plants re-develops gross and fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination lost to closed head injuries.
Other reasons why farming is uniquely suited to veterans returning to a troubled economy is that 45% of the military come from rural areas. Farming is one of the few growth industries in the current economy. Two farmers retire for every new one entering the field, and they are all desperate to hire skilled workers.
Veterans continuing to serve through growing healthy food for us and educating the public about sustainable organic farming. Demonstrating that life can still flourish after trauma and injury that only another veteran can really understand. Abundance happens!