Happy Veterans Day, Grow Appalachia family. We have a special post planned for today.

West Virginia Veterans to Agriculture (Vets to Ag) has been a Grow Appalachia partner site since 2014. Since that time, the Vets to Ag program has worked with more than 10 veteran families in Cabell, Mason, and Wayne counties in West Virginia. What has come from this is something I don’t think anyone expected: healing.  Nourishment has come in the form of feeding their families and their communities, but it’s also become a balm to both their physical and psychological wounds. We all know and have seen firsthand the wonders and triumphs of gardening, but for participants to go so far as to call it “healing”…well, it just makes this very necessary and important work that much more worthwhile. For another inside glimpse into this program, you can read this blog post from program director James McCormick (Warning: You might need a tissue or two).

I had the opportunity to speak, via email, with one of Vets to Ag’s participants, and he was more than willing to share his story. It follows, as written: unedited, unfiltered, and I will end this post with that. We at Grow Appalachia would like to sincerely thank all veterans for their service.

To begin with I must tell you a little about myself. I’m a 20 year Army veteran. I’m a combat veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom II. I am a 100% disabled veteran with PTSD and Agriculture has literally saved my life. 

I was struggling with life about 3 years ago and then I met James McCormick who recommended I try and grow a Sweet Sorghum for a Molasses Festival here in the state. I had never grown anything before and actually hated the garden, but this time it was different somehow. Digging in the dirt done something amazing to me and my symptoms. It turned out to be the best therapy I ever had. My sorghum crop failed miserably, but I got my life back. In just 3 years Sugar Bottom Farm has come a long way. We are just about finished this year except for our high tunnel crops. Our focus is Farm to School and our produce has been served to five different county school systems. I was able to make 56 gallons of Molasses and we just built a new Apairy for 14 more bee colonies in the spring. 

None of this would have been possible without the Veterans to Agriculture program. The program began training beekeepers and luckily I was one of the first five participants. In just the short time the program has been up and running, we now stand at 262 members in the program today. Beekeeping is still the main focus of training, but Vet to Ag has offered other training as well. From writing your Ag-business plan to canning and cooking your harvest and everything in between. There are several veterans who have begun Ag-businesses because of this program and many like myself greatly benefit from the therapy aspect. I think a program such as ours would do well in any state if the veteran support is there. Our America needs farmers. 

Eric Grandon
Sugar Bottom Farm