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I joined the Army to get away from the farm. Little did I know it would save me when I came home.
It was like being in my own blueberry forest, so beautiful and peaceful it was almost holy. There’s no hurry here, I thought. The only sound was birds chirping. No noise, no pressure, no worries. Maybe for the first time since I’d been wounded, my heart and mind stopped racing.
That calm didn’t leave me all day. Finally I stood and surveyed the neat rows of blueberry bushes I’d planted. Tiring work, but so satisfying to have something to show for it.
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Michele helped during her off hours, but mostly I worked the field alone. One by one other veterans started to come out and join us. Then they brought along other vet buddies. We had different post-combat issues, but they all seemed to work themselves out on the farm.
My coordination and balance improved and I got rid of my cane. My thinking and memory sharpened, my anxiety subsided. Working together helped us feel comfortable around other people again.
Even the crowds at the mall no longer fazed me, which was why I was there that day when the young homeless vet asked for leftovers. All the way home, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. “I wish I knew how to help guys like him,” I told Michele. “More than a handout...”
“You’ll find a way,” she said.
“If only he could work on a farm like ours,” I said, “he’d get back on track.”
That’s when it came to me. What if I expanded our farm, made it a place where disabled veterans could work and heal and reintegrate into civilian life? I made tons of phone calls trying to find a way to turn my idea into reality.
Someone put me in touch with Work Vessels for Veterans, a group that gives returning vets start-up tools for new careers. In my case, that was eight acres of farmland near Jacksonville, where there are large numbers of returning military.
Things took off from there. Veterans Farm is thriving. There’s a fellowship program so disabled vets can earn a living while they learn to run an organic farm. At the end, they get seed money to start their own farms. We grow fruit and vegetables, raise tilapia and chickens and keep bees.
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Our biggest crop is blueberries. We sell them at farmers markets as Red, White and Blueberries.
That young man from the mall? I never saw him again. I pray he finds his way. He helped me find mine. And if he ever needs work, I know a farm that can use his help, a place of promise fulfilled under the loving eye of the Lord.
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