Many countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and France, have a Veteran’s or Remembrance Day each year to honor the sacrifices made by veterans. In addition to remembering those who fought in battle, it’s also a time to remember that conflict doesn’t only impact soldiers, but also families and communities.
In the U.S., where Veteran’s Day is honored on Monday, November 11th, veterans from the Afghan and Iraq wars are finding a way to heal from their physical and mental wounds through farming.
And, there are an estimated 10.4 million people who are considered refugees across the world. In Somalia, some 1.1 million people remain displaced because of conflict and human rights violations. In Pakistan, there are more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees because of conflict in their home country. In Darfur, there are more than 2.6 million internally displaced persons; and there are another 140,000 living in refugee camps and 7,000 asylum-seekers in Sudan.
In the U.S., the unemployment rate among veterans ages 18-24 was 20 percent last year, five percent higher than the civilian average. And malnutrition rates among refugees are some of the highest in the world.
But agriculture can be a way for refugees and injured soldiers to not only feed themselves and earn income, but a way to heal their scars–both external and internal.
“It gives me a sense of inner peace, that I don’t feel anywhere else,” said a female veteran in the film Terra Firma, “I can be a hero in my community, by being a farmer.”
And Ibrahim Sawara Dahab, a farmer from Somalia says: “In America, you need experience, and my experience was goats,” said Ibrahim Sawara Dahab. He started his own goat meat farm and store near Phoenix in 2010.
These 13 projects are helping soldiers, families, and communities find pride, education, and fulfillment through farming.
1. Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC)
The Farmer Veteran Coalition is working with veterans across the United States to transition into agriculture. The FVC partners veterans with mentors who are experienced in farming and business, matches them with job opportunities in agriculture, and organizes equipment donations in Iowa and California. The FVC is helping former members of the armed forces in 48 states.
2. 317 Village in Chhuk District, Kampot Province
A Cambodian government-funded initiative has committed US$3 million to providing 240 families of military veterans and disabled war victims with houses and plots of land to farm. Each plot measures approximately 1.5 acres. This project is helping new hope to families whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by civil war.
3. Archi’s Acres
This small organic farm in Escondido, California was founded by a retired Marine Sergeant, and operates the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program in partnership with California State University-San Marcos. The program has trained more than 200 veterans in organic and environmentally sustainable farming practices. They also assist veterans post-graduation in finding jobs and starting their own businesses.
4. Bakery and Poultry Farm for Ex-Gang Members in El Salvador
In recent years, El Salvador has been torn apart by a vicious war between the Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Barrio 18 gangs. Former gang members in the town of Ilopango have not entered into a truce, but they have launched a poultry farm and bakery to give back to the community, and to develop animal husbandry skills. The mayor of Ilopango, Salvador Ruano, is supporting this project.
5. Community Youth Network Program (CYNP)
In Liberia, many children were forced into dictator Charles Taylor’s military during a decade-long period of civil war which started in 1989. A former soldier, Junior Toe, founded the CYNP to give purpose to ex-combatants trying to reintegrate into society. Toe has succeeded in teaching former soldiers to raise poultry, grow produce, and earn money through farming to support their families. CYNP also runs a Young Farmers Forum to create a community for its members.
6. Women for Women International
This organization is launching projects to help women war survivor all over the world rebuild their lives, and many of these projects are oriented toward farming. In Kosovo, the Women’s Opportunity Center is helping women increase their incomes through horticulture, beekeeping, and dairy production. In South Sudan, women are learning organic farming techniques, and how to sell their produce commercially. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, women are cultivating vegetables in greenhouses to earn income.
7. Eat the Yard
In Dallas, Texas and the neighboring town of Oak Cliff, Iraq War veterans James Jeffers and Steve Smith are cultivating fresh produce in community gardens. Jeffers and Smith first began organic farming in their own backyards for both therapeutic and financial reasons, and then slowly began to build more gardens in their community. They now sell the produce from these gardens to local restaurants and businesses.
8. Veterans to Farmers (VTF)
This organization strives to bring family farming back to the forefront of the American landscape. VTF was founded by United States Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams in 2011 after overwhelming veteran interest in his organic greenhouse program. Veterans complete a twelve week program, then VTF provides employment support. Several of the VTF graduates now own their own greenhouses, including Evan Premer who describes the greenhouse as a “decompression zone.”
9. Farmer Field Schools (FFS)
In post-conflict Northern Uganda, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), developed FFS. The program teaches modern agricultural skills to Ugandan refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The training emphasizes practice oriented learning and small group meetings based on similar interests. Upon graduation, smallholder farmers are awarded a grant to start their own agricultural enterprise.
10. Farm Reconstruction Project (FRP)
FRP was initiated by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Association (IDA) to target families who suffered most from the Bosnian war. The program refinanced farming activities for smallholder farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve food security. Refugees were given top priority and an initial 2,300 families were supported through the program.
11. Veterans Farm
This farm’s mission is to help disabled combat veterans reintegrate back into society through the use of horticulture therapy, while working together in a relaxed, open environment. Veterans Farm partners with Farmers Veterans Coalition to increase the number of farmers entering the agriculture field. Neurologist Dr. Cid Nazir says that, “picking blueberries is a form of physical therapy that will help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries to regain hand eye coordination, as well as develop cognitive skills”. The program is six months in length.
12. Growing through Refugee Organizations (GRO) Project
The GRO project began in 2009, led by the Haitian American Public Health Initiative which includes seven community based organizations run by refugees. The objective of GRO is to use gardening as a way to raise and access healthy food, improve relationships within families, and become more self sufficient. Over six hundred refugees and immigrants have started growing their own food in community gardens.
13. Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) Refugee Garden Project
LSI helps refugees build self sufficiency for new lives in Iowa. LSI connects families to gardening plots, provides training on Iowa’s climate, and seeks out new gardening opportunities. In 2011, over 400 refugee family members participated in the program and in 2012 LSI began empowering refugee families to participate in their urban farming program. Families come from countries such as Burma, Bhutan, Congo, and Iraq.