At its core, gardening is a patriotic endeavor. During World Wars I and II, victory gardens were a popular and necessary way to feed communities. After the wars, people would often sell or donate their excess harvest to feed the needy.
Additionally, there’s something therapeutic in the almost primitive act of toiling in the garden: yanking up weeds, digging in the dirt, and tending plants all serve to put things in perspective. Who doesn’t feel better after pulling a row of annoying weeds? Who doesn’t feel fantastic biting into a tomato that you grew yourself?
There's a particular group that benefits from this intersection in veterans. Many veterans battle the effects of PTSD every day. Others have difficulty fitting into traditional office culture when they get out of the military. Here’s why it’s a smart idea to put veterans to work in the garden.
In addition to improving health and disposition, gardening and farming provides individuals with the opportunity to grow and tend plants for use in restaurants, to give to the needy or for use in their own homes. When one is battling depression or PTSD, it can be difficult to see beyond oneself and his/her circumstances. Gardening takes people back to the basic human mindset of caring for another thing, from seed to harvest. They feel responsible, for their section of the garden and sometimes for feeding themselves and their communities. It gives them something to focus on.
Nurturing a garden helps people heal and relax. It can be tough to transition from a war zone to a peaceful environment. However, gardening is a relaxing task. There's a rhythm to the typical garden chores so it’s easy to meditate while you work. Plus, looking at flowers and being in nature is relaxing in itself. The only thing you have to worry about is the plant in front of you - nothing is life or death. You’re forced to be present in the present and enjoy the task at hand. For an individual who is suffering, achieving this state of mind staves off anxiety about the future and distracts from the traumas of the past.
Health and Wellness
One of the biggest issues affecting veteran communities is food security. Many veterans live in areas with high food insecurity and in our fast food culture, may not have the best diets or have the ability or knowledge to cook a nutritious 3 square meals each day. Getting them in the garden provides the opportunity to grow nutritionally dense food and learn different ways to prepare it all. Not only that, veterans may be empowered to share what they grow with those in need in their communities. This helps them feel proud of themselves and their accomplishments - they’re providing for their communities with their own hands.
Often veterans, particularly those who are suffering from PTSD, may feel alone and isolated.
Working together with other veterans allows them to socialize with people who have had similar experiences as them, making them feel less alone. They’ll develop friendships with people from all backgrounds and feel less lonely.
Gardening also produces feel-good hormones that help boost mood and make us feel fantastic. And if you are feeling angry? There are always weeds to pull, a hedge or shrub to clip or a new garden to cut. It can also give you a sense of control when you’re feeling out of control in life.
Perhaps most wonderfully of all, gardening is a gateway drug and just as you'd want someone's recovery to grow over an ongoing period, the joys you learn in your garden can grow to include more than just tending plants. Large scale crop production, landscaping, raising chickens, and even beekeeping are rewarding and empowering pursuits that begin by getting out into the yard. Introducing a veteran to any of these means that they'll learn to keep the operation going and gain experience and more responsibilities as they learn. This can improve self esteem and make them feel more confident as they adjust to civilian life, which translates into greater success socially and professionally.
Sense of Purpose
Those who serve and have served are among the most selfless and hardworking people in our country. Even veterans who aren't struggling financially or psychologically may feel lost once their service is complete as they lack the means to give back that came with being in uniform. If they do suffer from mental health issues, this sense of helplessness can be exacerbated. Gardening, when combined with traditional therapy, restores veterans' sense of purpose. They’re bettering their communities by growing healthy food. Additionally, they learn useful skills that they can use outside of the garden, especially if they become inspired to take it to the next level and start farming. The skills learned in the garden may motivate them to seek out a related topic or occupation in areas such as urban planning, food security, therapy and more. In short, gardening can open a lot of doors that down paths that many veterans would not normally consider and provide hope and options for the future.
Benefits for all
Since veterans are used to working together in a team-like environment toward a common purpose, leaders of gardens and farms can tap into this sense of purpose and camaraderie to get things done. Just as veterans served their country, gardening allows them to serve their communities.
If you’re interested in helping veterans find a place in the garden or on the farm, there are many organizations dedicated to the cause. Click here for more information about organizations dedicated to rehabilitating veterans through garden and farm work.