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Growing Veterans connects service members with farming opportunities

Nov 2nd, 2012 | Category: Community, Features

Program starting in Whatcom, Skagit counties; may expand to Island

by Rodney Lotter

Four years ago, Christopher Brown set foot on Washington soil after serving three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines.

Organizer Christopher Brown served three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. “As a student, I became very interested in sustainable and regional food systems, and I had the idea to connect it with my volunteer work with veterans, and then I just ran with it,” Brown said. COURTESY PHOTO

Brown experienced the same challenges that many veterans have faced before him: feeling lost and isolated from the world around him.

“When I came back, I found it very difficult to transition back to a normal, civilian life,” Brown said. “That is when I started volunteering with veterans groups. I would listen to fellow veterans share stories, and saw how it helped them deal with their PTSD. They felt isolated from their communities, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to help them reconnect with the people around them.”

For post-9/11 veterans, the reality of civilian life has been pretty harsh, to say the least. According to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 9.7-percent, nearly two points above the national average. Almost 30-percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the Veterans Administration, according to a study done by the organization earlier this year.

Brown suffered from PTSD, and one of his therapeutic outlets was his new garden. That is when he came up with the idea of creating a non-profit group called Growing Veterans.

“I found, as my garden grew, my issues with PTSD would diminish,” he said.

Brown, 26, founded Growing Veterans in June. The goal of the group is to connect veterans with local farms as a way to provide them with job skills and to help their transition to civilian life.

Brown began making connections with local farms in Whatcom and Skagit counties while he was pursuing his degree in Human Services at Western Washington University. He graduated last summer.

Growing Veterans has partnered with Growing Washington and Viva Farms, non-profit organizations dedicated to providing communities with fresh, healthy food options and farming opportunities, and with The Mission Continues, a  national non-profit that challenges post 9/11 veterans to serve and lead in their communities once they return home.

“As a student, I became very interested in sustainable and regional food systems, and I had the idea to connect it with my volunteer work with veterans, and then I just ran with it,” Brown said.

Brown said that he wants to use the skills that veterans have learned during their service to improve the communities around them. Growing Veterans is focused on post-9/11 veterans, but Brown said he would not turn down any veteran who wanted to participate in Growing Veterans programs.

“In the military we learn skills like teamwork, leadership, the ability to work under stress and a hard work ethic. Sometimes, it seems like these skills get lost in the transition” Brown said. “I want people from the community to realize that veterans are valuable.”

Currently, Brown is expanding his network of farmers and gathering more acreage to be used for farming during the next growing season. In the future, he said he plans on harvesting the food that is grown by the veterans and then transporting it to low-income areas and places that have little access to healthy food options. In addition, he wants to expand the program into Island County.

“When a person grows food, they’re bringing life to the planet, and when they give that food to another person, they are sustaining a fellow person’s life,” Brown said. “And, at the same time, they’re increasing the awareness of healthy food and changing the way people view what they put into their bodies. It seems like a lofty goal, but I think it is something worth striving towards.”

For more information, contact staff@growingveterans.org, visit growingveterans.org, or follow the group’s Facebook page.

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3 Comments to “Growing Veterans connects service members with farming opportunities”

  1. Ronnie Brown says:

    Wow, I love you so much. To watch what you have done with your life, Chris I’m really , really proud of you. To know the sacrifice you made to serve your country. To see the challanges your time of service put on you and to watch your rise above all those things is nothing short of amazing. Then to see your passion for your fellow man and your heart just open up to those around you are really making a difference. If all of us could make half the impact you have done in such a short time the world would be a much differant place, a much better place. I can’t wait to see you and to work with with you on the the post project.

  2. Wonderful.

    I volunteered at the Food Bank Farm, which used to lease the same land. Great to see the property being worked by such capable and worthy hands.

    Congrats, Chris!

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