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MY STORY: Growing Veterans: Dirt therapy brings peace

Apr 2nd, 2015 | Category: Community, Features

by Mike Hackett 

My “Growing Veterans” love affair began about 30 months ago. As a board member of Tilth Producers of Washington, I learned about a documentary “Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farm Fields.” Specifically, Tilth was asked to support this important film by assisting with community “premiere” showings. I volunteered. It changed my life.

Mike Hackett. PHOTO BY THOMAS RENTERIA

Mike Hackett. PHOTO BY THOMAS RENTERIA

I met Chris Brown, the creator and director of Growing Veterans. I was impressed with Chris’ vision. I learned about the GV farm and its mission. It resonated with me. Then we showed the documentary film on the Western Washington University campus. We facilitated a healthy discussion among those in attendance. It dawned on me that “dirt therapy” is very real and key to restoring health, instilling a positive life outlook for many combat veterans.

It reminded me of my return from two Viet Nam deployments with the Amphibious Navy, supporting Marines and other naval combat operations along Vietnamese rivers and canals. I have lived with a combat-related disability since then. When I was honorably discharged, I enrolled in college to learn more about agriculture, specifically livestock production, in search of growing, not destroying – to find a “meaning” in life. My university experience was unique. I was with fellow classmates, 5-to-7 years younger than myself. Almost none were veterans, let alone combat veterans. Though only in my mid-20s, I felt like a serious old man. Talk about a fish out of water in the early 70s! I also held a distrust of authority and an overall rebellious attitude. Despite these traits, I graduated with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Animal Science. I then raised a family on a small farm. My career path involved agricultural education.  My next “career” was an organic certification field inspector. I have two part-time jobs: the Skagit Valley Food Cooperative produce department and Osborne Seed Company in Mount Vernon.

Somehow, I managed my careers and family while dealing with my “demons” and bad memories. It was due in large part to those loved ones who were patient with me, as well as “dirt therapy,” working on our small farm, and teaching sustainable agriculture – growing food and fiber. It has been a lifetime journey that today reflects a healthy and productive person who is now poised to help those who struggle, with combat-related trauma while living life on life’s terms. And I do it gratefully and willingly when asked.

Some of the folks at Growing Veterans gather for a photo following a workshop about pollinators by Bruce Vilders. From left to right, in back: Dan Robinson and Chris Wolf. Front row: Justin Blotsky, Joel Swenson, Mike Hackett (author, with box), Bruce Vilders, Paul Kuepfer, and Matthew Aamot. Kneeling: Kenny Holzemer. PHOTO BY BRUCE VILDERS

Some of the folks at Growing Veterans gather for a photo following a workshop about pollinators by Bruce Vilders. From left to right, in back: Dan Robinson and Chris Wolf. Front row: Justin Blotsky, Joel Swenson, Mike Hackett (author, with box), Bruce Vilders, Paul Kuepfer, and Matthew Aamot. Kneeling: Kenny Holzemer. PHOTO BY BRUCE VILDERS

I really had not made that leap until I met Chris, and learned of the Growing Veterans farm.

I decided to do what I could to support this organization and its mission. I made one important connection – Growing Veterans and Tilth Producers of Washington. I showed the film to about 60 people at the Tilth Annual Conference in Yakima last November. It was a hit, and there was considerable discussion about the whole idea. It generated a lot of enthusiasm for this movement and for Growing Veterans in general.

I have committed to work with this organization as time and energy allow. It is so very inspirational to me, working shoulder-to-shoulder with primarily young returning combat veterans whose experiences were not unlike mine – never knowing who or what may appear in harm’s way in combat zones. Memories may recede, but for some of us, its effects can manifest themselves even in “safe” settings here at home. Growing crops and raising farm animals has been proven to mitigate these residual negative thoughts/actions. It is a simple but powerful healing tool that is evident on the farm.

Most importantly, this  unique experience of discovering and volunteering with Growing Veterans helps me to be more comfortable in my own skin. I am grateful and honored for the privilege to volunteer with Growing Veterans. I love being in the company of fellow combat veterans, younger and older. It is a “safe” feeling that permeates the farm – a place of mutual trust of one another. It is here that our stories and experiences easily flow, along with the nurturing environment of learning, of growing and marketing sustainable, wholesome food together. It results in restful healing and serenity. Finally, I have come home, thanks to Growing Veterans. Peace at last.

Published in the April 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

One Comment to “MY STORY: Growing Veterans: Dirt therapy brings peace”

  1. Lee Trevithick says:

    This is important information presented by the author in an interesting and persuasive first person narrative. A must read if you have any concern for our Veterans.

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