Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Veterans Farm

                    Some days I simply cannot handle one more news item about what is wrong in our nation and world, and today happens to be one of those days.  I searched for something good to write about and found an article about Veterans Farm in Parade Magazine.  I did a little more research about Veterans Farm and decided to share what I found.

                    Veterans Farm began with one man, former U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Burke, age 34.  Burke was serving as an infantryman in Iraq and was just two weeks from the end of his deployment in May 2004.  His unit was on a mission in the Sunni Triangle when one of his guys was shot while crossing a street.  Burke reached out to pull his buddy to cover when the enemy began firing.  Burke was hit with shrapnel in his head and legs.  He was later awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries, but while he was lying in the street he prayed.  "Lord, if you get me home to see my family at least one more time, I promise that I'll make my life worth saving."

                    Burke was transported back home for a reunion with his wife Michele, and she helped with his recovery.  Burke had been a star athlete earlier in his life, but he could hardly stay on his feet.  His ruptured eardrum made it difficult for him to balance himself.  In addition, he felt "intense anxiety."  He was diagnosed with a number of problems:  traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and hypertension.  After a couple of years of travel and self-pity parties, Burke and Michele made their way to Webster, Florida - his hometown. 

                    Burke grew up on his family farm in the area and was the first member of his family to not go into farming.  Instead, he left at age 17 to join the army.  "Farmer's blood" however ran in his veins.  [Being a farmer's daughter, I understand what it means to have farmer's blood in one's veins.  There is something special to a farmer about the feel and smell of soil, and a true farmer has a real need to work in the soil!]  Burke's family gave him two and a half acres of land, and Burke and Michele moved into a 32-foot trailer.  They "used his disability benefits to buy blueberry bushes and irrigation equipment."

                    "As Burke spent his days working in the sunshine, he noticed that his hand-eye coordination and his cognitive functions, which had been impaired due to his injuries, steadily improved.  After a year and a half, he was able to put aside his cane.  One day he was struck with an idea:  Since farming had benefited him physically and mentally, perhaps it could help other soldiers too.

                    "He also thought it could address another problem faced by returning members of the military:  unemployment.  The jobless rate for the most recent vets is nearly 10 percent.  And farming's challenging lifestyle is actually a good fit for former troops.  Burke notes, `It takes a lot of discipline to get up at five in the morning and work hard, but soldiers are used to it.'"

                    Burke began advertising his farm simply by "word of mouth."  He began to see veterans - some disabled - making their way to his farm.  "When Burke saw that the men in wheelchairs were unable to pick berries from bushes at ground level, he put plants in tall pots they could reach.  `They're handicapped-access berries!' Burke declares."

                    When Burke realized in 2010 that he needed more property, he was able to get funding for eight more acres from Work Vessels for Veterans, a nonprofit organization that helps former military members to launch businesses.

                    Today Burke is providing paying work for "veterans of conflicts ranging from the Korean War to the war in Iraq."  On his farm, the veterans not only tend the soil but they build camaraderie.  There on the farm, working side by side, the veterans can share their hopes and their fears as well as discuss their "guilt" for being alive and healthy while friends didn't make it or getting other bad thoughts and memories out in the open.

                    "Under the bright Florida sun, Burke climbs onto a tractor and pulls a plow across a field.  Once he risked his life to pull a comrade out of the line of fire.  Today, he's leading some of his fellow soldiers to a different kind of sanctuary."

                    More information on Veterans Farm can be found here.  I like their motto:  "Veterans Farm - Home of the Red, White and Blueberry."  Their mission statement is as follows:  Our mission is to help disabled combat veterans reintegrate back into society through the use of horticulture therapy, while working together in a relaxed, open environment.  Veterans will work as a team to develop solutions that will enable them to overcome physical and mental barriers."

                    If you choose to help "veterans reintegrate back into society," you can do so through either or both of the following nonprofit groups that help former military members into farming:  1) Farmer-Veteran Coalition and 2) Work Vessels for Veterans. 

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