Last week, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a screening of "Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields" at the local community college. It is a documentary film and social action campaign about combat veterans who are transitioning to careers in sustainable farming, ranching and artisan food production. Their goal is to connect veterans with resources, so they can create healthy new lives for themselves and their families, and provide regional food security for communities across America.
As a military spouse, I was unprepared for how the film would affect me. I felt such a mix of emotions knowing my husband, who served for a year in Afghanistan, was sitting beside me, unchanged... the same man he was before he deployed. (We are interested in the possibility of farming in some capacity after he retires from active-duty.) For the men and women we meet in the film, however, it is a very different story. Many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have had a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life. Unemployment, drug addiction, PTSD, and suicide are very real issues faced by many. Those who have turned to farming and ranching, however, have found solace in their new missions. The stories of these veterans are powerful and inspiring.
Two such veterans are the brother and sister duo of Matthew and Althea Raiford. I had the pleasure of meeting both of them last fall at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. They were representing The Farmer Veteran Coalition, the inspiration for the film, whose mission is to mobilize veterans to feed America. This group works with veterans, their families, employers, and mentors to support those returning to or beginning careers in food and farming. This is also the group that is taking Kentucky's "Homegrown by Heroes" initiative nationwide, which will enable grocery-store shoppers to support veteran-owned farms.
Also featured in the film was Farmer John Wilson, of New Earth Farm in Virginia Beach. Believing strongly in education, Farmer John has mentored several veterans who now run their own farms. We need more farmers like him to step up to the plate and share their knowledge with the next generation.
After the film, we had a wonderful Q&A session with the Dulanie Ellis (Director/Producer), Farmer John, and one of his mentees, Rick Cavey, of Wagon Wheel Farm in Independence, VA. We also enjoyed some good eats before the film, and certainly left with lots of food for thought.
Currently, there are screenings scheduled in Kansas City, Mo., Berkeley, Calif., Port Townsend, Wa., Greenville, S.C., and a Midwest Film and Farms Tour is being planned for this summer. More information can be found on the Ground Operations website. To host a screening in your area, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.