Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Part 5
For the last four weeks, we’ve been discussing hidden groups of potential farmers, including the developmentally disabled, schools, and senior citizens. Each of these groups receives extra benefits from using aquaponics, beyond the amazing food it produces. These benefits range from educational to therapeutic to job/skill training.
This month, we’ll be discussing another group of potential farmers that enjoy all of these benefits from aquaponics. This group represents roughly 7.3% of the living American population, although this number varies by country. These potential farmers are typically hard workers, well organized, and structure oriented, making them prime farmers. They also have an innate pull towards serving their community. Of course, I am talking about our veterans.
The VA estimates 22 million veterans living in the US as of 2014. Life for soldiers returning from combat can be hard, including barriers to employment, health and mental health issues, and trouble reintegrating into peacetime society. Extreme cases of veteran reintegration may result in drug addiction, homelessness, and even homicidal behavior. However, the hardships of post-combat life are not limited to the extreme cases. Many veterans return home with ongoing issues related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including emotional swings, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and many other low-grade persistent issues.
As our modern society learns to cope with these issues, we have developed various methods to help these veterans. After World War I & II, veterans returned home with “shell shock,” a catchall term for the many different mental repercussions of encountering heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Back then, shell-shocked soldiers were looked down on and pitied for not being “tough enough”. Today, we know these conditions not to be a reflection of an individual’s toughness, but rather an involuntary reaction, an affliction caused by being subjected to tremendous stress and trauma.
Modern methods of tending to these veterans are varied, including pharmacology (pills), psychology (talk therapy), and other methods. One method that has been gaining traction has been turning veterans into gardeners and farmers.
Growing food has helped many veterans. Howard Hinterthuer served as a medic in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and now works for the Organic Therapy Program. Howard had a lot to say about the benefits of gardening after he and the hundreds he’s helped have found solace from gardening.
“Gardening is important because it allows our veterans to have an optimistic experience. It takes their mind off of the injustices and bad things that have happened to them in the past, the things that have gotten them to the place of homelessness.
Gardening is meditative and increases self-esteem. We are trying to assign raised beds to certain people so that there’s an increased sense of ownership. I think that there’s therapeutic value in establishing a pattern of responsible behavior.”
Gardening offers much to our veterans. A therapeutic, tranquil environment, a sense of contribution and creation, a social environment, and community integration. Farming helps veterans feel all these benefits in addition to the pride of continuing to serve their community by providing food for sale. Farming offers meaningful employment opportunities, the ability to be your own boss, and all with the same therapeutic benefits of the garden. This is what makes our population of veterans such a potent source of potential farmers. Returning veterans can grow healthy and contribute to society while creating meaningful lives for themselves back home.
The USDA Farm Bill, the major agricultural legislation passed every five years, included a historic portion specifically directed towards veteran farmers. Benefits include financial assistance, consulting assistance, and preference when submitting applications for various funding opportunities. Inclusion in the Farm Bill signifies the potential impact of veteran farmers that the government perceives as a vital portion for the nation’s continued agricultural prosperity.
Aquaponics is an important tool for the veteran farmer. With aquaponics, veterans can grow a great deal of food in relatively small spaces. They can grow in urban, suburban, or rural settings, wherever they may live. Aquaponics also helps growers get started fast, with the natural biology of the system doing much of the heavy lifting.
As more veterans become aquaponics gardeners and farmers, and more veteran agencies embrace the technology, the portion of food produced by this population of hidden farmers could be huge. In conjunction with the food provided by other hidden populations of farmers like the developmentally disabled, the elderly, and our schoolchildren, the idea of a distributed farm starts to become more clear. Many groups of producers, spread throughout a community, network together to provide
a large portion of the local communities food needs. As more of these groups begin producing, a community’s food security will continue to get stronger and stronger. Local food production and consumption will also help bring prosperity to these communities by keeping more dollars spent on food circulating back into the community.
Perhaps helping their community create the positive spiral of local food security will help veterans across the world put their past to rest and focus on cultivating the future.