05 February 2013

Veterans and Gardening

“Reggie Mourning wears a Marine Corps sweatshirt and two 9-millimeter pistol rounds on a chain around his neck. There’s an M14 round hanging from his keychain. His tour of duty with a mortar unit in Vietnam was long in the past, but never really ended.
After coming home, he worked for years as a trucker with the jagged rhythms of the war zone wired into his brain — sometimes barreling cross-country, drunk and stoned, with only his dog as a companion. In 2007, sick, exhausted, on his way to becoming homeless, he made it to the substance abuse program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Newark. “(New York Times, November 30, 2009)

So what does this have to do with gardening?  Plenty!  Gardening is therapeutic for many, military or not.  It’s a chance to play in the dirt, get back to basics and just…be.  Not only that, but I would guess that for veterans, it provides familiarity.  The familiarity provided by taking care of  the plants as they did their comrades in war - unconditionally; performing their duties no matter what because lives depend on them and then sharing the benefits of a job well done.

Reggie was one of the lucky ones from the military who got to experience the joys of gardening first hand.  Veterans Affairs had undergone a change in an effort to offer a more holistic approach to some of their treatments.  They had partnered with an organization called Planetree, a non-profit group offering a patient-centered holistic approach to health services.  Out of this effort and a series of events came the center’s vegetable gardening program and the process of learning that by growing food for one another, they could learn other things, like how to heal from the wounds of war. 

That first year, even with size limitations, they dug 20’x50’ plots in between the medical center’s buildings and grew and harvested over 1000 pounds of produce.  They shared it with other patients and also used it at their “Foxhole CafĂ©” within the medical center. 

For many veterans, gardening was less about growing food and more about learning about themselves.  So many veterans come home and have difficulty re-integrating themselves into their former lives after such traumatic action overseas.  “With two protracted wars at a time when military suicides are at record levels, with psychic and physical damage on a scale threatening to swamp the veterans’ system, an urban garden at one medical center gets you only so far. Mr. Mourning shudders at today’s multiple tours of duty and thinks veterans desperately need a job corps for training and finding work.”

So gardening is just a small part here, but it’s one that can help make a difference.  Get involved.  If you know someone who needs help, get started digging….perhaps a community garden is a great way to go, or just a small garden at home.  You’ll be surprised at how many lives you can affect by just trying to help one.  Research your local resources and get your friends together to help out.  Our military friends have done so much for us.  They have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  Be sure to thank them and let them know you care. 

From our home to yours, thank you for your service.  We owe our lives to you.  May God bless you.

To read the article from The New York Times in its entirety, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/nyregion/30towns.html




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