After War, Veterans Find Peace, Fulfillment in Agriculture

Bookmark and Share
In a new blog entry, Worldwatch Research Fellow Molly Theobald reports on military veterans who turned to farming to help them transition to civilian life.

Adam BurkeAdam Burke returned home from Iraq after nine years of military service with a Purple Heart award for bravery. But, suffering from both physical and emotional injuries, he did not feel prepared to enter the traditional workforce. During the third annual, four-day long Coalition for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans (CIAV) conference in Washington DC on May 11, Burke described the one activity that finally helped him: farming.

Agriculture is more than just a way of producing food. As Burke demonstrates, it can also be a way to heal the physical and emotional wounds of war, as well as a source of meaningful employment for returning soldiers. Burke described "the peace and fulfillment" he gains from working outdoors-a peace and fulfillment he was not able to find in the therapy offered by traditional doctors.

"The best way to heal was to provide therapy for myself," said Burke. "I needed something more than medication. I needed to get outside and feel a real sense of purpose again, and that is what farming has given me."

Michael O'Gorman is founder and executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), an organization that helps place returning Iraq and Afghan veterans at small-scale organic farms. There, they can learn new skills while also making the often difficult transition back into civilian life. "Farming provides a unique opportunity for soldiers to find peace and quiet, feed their community and their family, while restoring the farming heartland of this country," O'Gorman said.

Twenty percent of the military men and women who returned to the United States last year from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a RAND Corporation Report on military casualties and injuries. More than 20 percent of U.S. veterans ages 18-24 were unemployed last year, five percent higher than the civilian population in the same age group. Though the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers therapy and medical treatment for returning soldiers, many veterans find that these services are insufficient.

With the help of FVC, Burke founded Veterans Farm in Florida. He hopes to provide paid work and horticulture therapy for other returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and other disabilities that often affect veterans. Emphasizing the sense of peace and community-and the income-that farming can provide, Burke said that the goal of FVC and Veterans Farm is to reintegrate veterans in their community. "We put them to work in the field, and then we say ‘Go work in the market, sell the produce and go get out in the community, meet your neighbors while you're providing them with this great service,'" Burke said.

Other organizations represented on the panel included Veterans Green Jobs (VFC), an organization that provides job training for veterans and helps them enter green job sectors such as energy efficiency, energy retrofitting, renewable energy, and environmental conservation and restoration. Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a program at the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, helps transition veterans into agricultural careers farm or ranch owners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Resources Conservation Service also provides funding and support opportunities for beginning and established farmers in the United States.

Visit Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet blog to learn more about the role of agriculture in stimulating local economies and enriching the lives of individuals across the world.

Molly Theobald is a research fellow with the Worldwatch Institute. She can be reached at mtheobald@worldwatch.org.

This article originally appeared on the Worldwatch Institute blog Nourishing the Planet. For permission to republish this report, please contact Juli Diamond at jdiamond@worldwatch.org