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Farmers, military working together (Editorial)

(June 20, 2017) It’s a fact: Farming is a recognized antidote to treat PTSD.
That’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disabling illness that affects hundreds of servicemen and women returning from the terrifying horrors of war.
Vets who have found employment on farms testify that the job offers the brotherhood, the camaraderie of their old platoon and farming demands the same dedication to the mission as it did on the battlefield.
The United States Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for veterans is at its lowest in nearly 10 years, at 3.7 percent.
That’s below the national average unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.
Even at that, the Department of Labor survey indicates that about 1.05 million veterans are without jobs.
What is more, the USDL says, many of the occupations held by veterans may not be healing any negative psychological effects they may have suffered as a result of their service.
Fortunately, many veterans are finding an answer in agriculture to both unemployment and the need for healing.
Studies confirm that veterans commonly possess characteristics of diligence, forethought, physical stamina, and many other attributes that cause them to be successful farmers.
Tia Christopher, chief of staff at the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, stated that, “farming and the military are two of the hardest professions. ... It takes a special type of person to do either, let alone both. I think the quality that’s most important for both is determination, and our farmer veterans have it in droves.”
With less than 20 percent of his lungs functioning after injuries sustained during his service in Operation Desert Storm, Paul Johnston needed a lifeline.
He found one starting a small farm with his family in Smyrna, Del.
Moving to northern Kent County 13 years ago for better air quality, Johnston said that seven years ago his children, Carrie and Paul, wanted to expand their garden into a larger operation, growing lettuce and herbs.
“We wanted to set something up in case something happened to me,” Johnston said. “My family decided to do this to keep me alive.”
On their 11-acre property, the Johnstons have three high tunnel greenhouses to grow arugula and other lettuces and few small plots for vegetables.
Johnston said the operation is therapeutic for him, physically challenging and psychologically rewarding.
“As long as you keep yourself upbeat, happy and busy, you can keep yourself going. It’s all in the attitude,” he said.
For Johnston, farming helps him relieve stress, provides a clear mission and uses many of the skills he learned in the Army.
One program for veterans named Farmers Assisting Returning Military, was founded in 2012 by Army veterans Steve Smith and James Jeffers, when the pair realized the connection between farming and service: both demanded structure, regimen, and a willingness to serve the nation.
Army veteran Josh Ledford of FARM shared that the work “... helps with PTSD. I know a lot of guys are struggling with depression…I’ve seen guys that have been on medicine, and then given up their medicine because they’re out here. They’re working, the brotherhood, the camaraderie.”
Marvin Frink, a disabled Army veteran who received a grant to start his agricultural efforts through the Farmer Veteran Coalition, provided another testimony to the virtues of farm work when he stated:
“Farming is an equivalent to going on tour. There’s the time of day where things need to get completed, no matter what’s going on with the weather or in our lives. Farming is like working with my old platoon. It gives me a sense of duty, and I feel responsible for something — serving your country in the way of agriculture is the way to go.”
Currently, the USDA promotes the Farmer Veteran Coalition, Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, and Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, as well as partners with several states and organizations to help veterans find employment on existing farms or education and funding to begin their own.
While programs encouraging veterans to find relief in farming have greatly increased in the past decade, at present, no federal programs exist.
Hopefully, as awareness of the benefits of farming grows, a federal program will be created that can unite and amplify nationwide efforts to improve the lives of those who have so generously defended our freedom.