Lettuce grows on an organic farm.

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A Nonprofit That Helps Vets Get Involved in Sustainable Agriculture

"It’s nice to be able to plant something in the ground that will explode into life rather than into destruction."

They’re heroes on the battlefield. But once they return home, our veterans face joblessness, depression, homelessness, and suicide.

In Washington state, Growing Veterans is trying to fight these grave problems through the simple act of bringing former service members together to farm. Chris Brown, the founder of the nonprofit, told Briana Gerdeman of The Woodinville Weekly that a veteran once told him, “It’s nice to be able to plant something in the ground that will explode into life rather than into destruction.”

Brown is a Marine Corps veteran born and raised in Woodinville, Washington. After finishing his service, he went to college and started volunteering with the Veterans Conservation Corps, a veteran training program that helps restore and protect Washington’s natural resources. During his time with the organization, he saw first hand how rocky veterans’ transition into civilian life can be. Many of those that Brown met were interested in sustainable agriculture, so after he graduated in 2012, Brown launched his nonprofit to help members of the armed forces and grow healthy produce at the same time.

Growing Veterans employs seven soldiers at its main farm and seven more at partner farms, relying on the help of more than a hundred volunteers total. The farm work gives veterans a chance to connect with fellow soldiers and other volunteers who may not have served in the military.

Of the veterans who participate, Brown told Gerdeman, “Some of them are really interested in becoming farmers. Others just want to get outside or get involved in their community.” He said they welcome the chance to be “a part of something bigger than themselves…it’s something we all kind of long for, but veterans especially, because you’ve been with this group for so long. So it can be really huge for them, and therapeutic.”

What happens with the food that Growing Veterans raises? It’s sold to the community through Growing Washington CSA, where people can sign up to purchase food boxes of local, chemical-free produce that comes with the added bonus of helping veterans.

MORE: From Field Hands to Farmers: This Program Helps Latino Immigrants Become Landowners

Source: The Woodinville Weekly

Jenny Shank is a fiction writer and journalist in Boulder, Colo. Her first novel, “The Ringer,” won the High Plains Book Award. Her stories, essays, satire and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, McSweeney's and The Guardian.