The change from soldier to (urban/micro) farmer happened organically for me – no pun intended. I can look at my childhood and point to this gardener and that gardener that influenced my upbringing – mother, grandparents, neighbors, and friends of the family. I knew the taste of fresh tomato sandwiches in summer, the incredible sweetness of peppers from the land, and how strawberries mixed with fresh spinach from the raised beds were some of the best summer salads ever. Even as a soldier, I would have little mini gardens – a tomato plant, a jalapeno plant, maybe a strawberry plant. (I’m still angry that someone threw my pot of herbs off the barracks roof in Germany.) Once on patrol in Iraq we gave seeds to the citizens there and it’s some of my fondest memories.
As a soldier, especially during my reserve time, the idea of Citizen Soldier was very strong. The military functioned by its support by citizens and its citizens created the force. Many would argue, including myself that the all-volunteer force has eliminated the connection between military service and citizenship; but, the culture and rhetoric for it is still strong within the U.S. military.
The message driven into the servicemembers head daily is that you are a true patriot if you serve and forever have that moniker even when you transition from soldier back to citizen. When I hung up my combat boots and my government spokesperson flag pin, getting back to being just a civilian was hard. However, my desire to grow things was still strong. I started again with just an herb garden. Then there were the raised beds. Then we dug up the whole front lawn, added chickens and ducks, now there’s honey bees and fruit trees. Things are growing away.
Right about the time we expanded our growing space(s) at the homestead we purchased in Twin Peaks, I came across an ideal I hadn’t thought about since high school world history class: Romantis. This was the ideal of citizen-soldier-farmer. Much like the ideals our rebellious founders embraced, Rome had a militia-type defense-force which could be called up in time of war and then disbanded during peacetime. This citizen/soldier/farmer ideal is exampled by Roman citizen, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus – Rome’s George Washington, if you will. Per Roman legend, Cincinnatus was tending his farm when a messenger arrived, telling him that Rome was under attack and that he had been elected leader. He was at first reluctant to go, but the Senate pleaded with him. He defeated the enemy tribe within a matter of weeks and, despite the remaining most of his six-month term as leader with absolute power, returned to his farm.
I would argue that once you taste combat, once you see the truthful ugly violence that is war (not this Hollywood crap wrapped in a flag), being left to exist simply, grow food ,and be around those you love is all you ever long for the rest of your life. It certainly is true for me, and I’m finding I’m not alone.
Many of the vendors at my local farmer markets are also veterans. You begin to know the look of someone who has done time as a sister or brother in arms. Sometimes we talk about our service time; most times we’re talking about the lack of or too much rain or the best way to keep pests away (or main enemy combatant in our growing farming civilian life), or…you know, farming topics. Holding up our plowshares is how we serve now. There’s a peace in working the land you find nowhere else following your service time, especially if you’ve been under fire.
As I have been working more and more with veterans to do writing as healing, is another place that I’m finding that many of us Vets have moved from combat boots to farming mucks. There are a variety of organizations that have the mission of exposing vets to the farming life – urban, micro, or big time. Such programs include: Farmer to Vet Coalition, Beginning Farmers, and Veteran Farmers Project. Also, many states have local organizations encouraging urban farming, aiming their lenses at vets and youth, like here in Washington there is Ground Operations, which focuses on taking soldiers from the battlefield to the farmfield.
Many of my fellow Vets-to-Farmers got into it more organically much like myself; however, for those organizations helping others to find the peace of working the land, I’m boosting the signal so others can see their good work and support it, or use it, as they can and need.