Through a blend of peer mentoring, community farming, and “dirt therapy,” Growing Veterans uses sustainable agriculture as a catalyst for ending homelessness, suicide, and addiction among veterans in Western Washington. The program’s fresh approach to veteran reintegration, according to Growing Veterans’ Co-founder Christopher Brown, emerged from his own journey as a veteran who found solace growing food and nurturing life in the garden. Brown and Co-founder Christina Wolf, a former mental health counselor turned farmer, set out to offer veterans an opportunity to work beside their families, fellow veterans, and community volunteers, recapturing a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. While creating a peer-support network to end the damaging effects of veteran isolation, the program enables veterans to acquire agricultural skills, easing their transition into the civilian world—and increasing the likelihood that they’ll become farm owners or operators to augment America’s aging farmer population (the average age of a farmer in Washington State is 58). During Growing Veterans’ Innovation Prize term, Brown transitioned from his role as executive director to the organization’s board, allowing him to pursue a clinical social-work license. He now works full-time as a PTSD counselor for combat veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, while supporting Growing Veterans’ continuing mission to provide hope, purpose, and camaraderie to veterans in a transformative approach to building community capital.
Combining military veteran reintegration with sustainable agriculture, we empower military vets to grow food, communities, and each other. With an emphasis on suicide prevention through peer support, our holistic model addresses veteran isolation, a symptom of PTSD and the root cause of a multitude of issues facing the veteran population.
I carry guilt from being a survivor of three combat deployments when 41 of the Marines from my battalion never made it home. I decided to dedicate my life to ensuring their deaths were not in vain. Having lost nearly 15 others to suicide, this motivation will never leave me.
Beyond the trend of 18-22 veteran suicides per day in this country, our biggest challenge as an organization is securing funding that will support the ongoing development of our programs. We are establishing systems that will sustain themselves long-term, but we need financial support in order to get us there.
Jake Wood at Team Rubicon has probably been my greatest inspiration. Serving in the same Marine battalion with him and watching Team Rubicon evolve in disaster relief, I’ve strived for Growing Veterans to have the same impact in the field of sustainable agriculture. I hope to find ways for our two organizations to collaborate.
Every Thursday at our Farmer’s Market outside the Veterans Affairs hospital in Seattle, one can witness the essence of what Growing Veterans is about. Learning about our mission, receiving free or reduced-price organic produce, and hearing about our common experiences as veterans and caregivers brings many to tears on a weekly basis.
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