War changes a person. Speaking as a veteran, I see war as the opposite of creation. To me, the very purpose of war is to destroy. And many men and women who have served know firsthand that war can destroy your soul as well. Doctors like to call these mental and emotional disturbances from war “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or PTSD. But many veterans will tell you that what they experience is not so easily classified as PTSD. Rather, war made me smarter; it made me aware of what humans are capable of. We have done some despicable things to each other over the eons. War destroyed my psyche. It destroyed my ability to function in social environments, which is the very environment that makes us human. War disconnected me from the human experience. That’s how I felt at least: disconnected.
I became interested in gardening as a form of post-trauma therapy when I decided that there was no way I could trust leaving my wellbeing in the hands of a system run by people. People mess up. I wanted to hunt and grow my own food. In the midst of all these goings-on, I had started on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ roller coaster of medication — an antidepressant class of drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs — seemingly by the pound.
I soon had no feelings whatsoever and just felt like a zombie. I began to have suicidal thoughts that just weren’t there before. At the urging of my entire family, I got off of them and began to garden as a replacement therapy.
There came no overnight miracle. Yet, slowly, through the planting of a seed, I had started to begin to appreciate life again. As I would watch this seedling grow, and as I cautiously built up the soil, I began to see again that our world is so connected — from the mycelium in healthy, organic matter-rich soil to the miracle that is a watermelon plant. All of those are connected. The mycelium helps the roots uptake nutrients, which in turn give the mycelium nutrients the fungus cannot otherwise get. Then, I ingest those nutrients when I eat the melon.
There is something wholesome and wonderful in this symbiosis. The act of taking a single seed, preparing your ground, planting the seed, watching it sprout, weeding, watering, pruning and harvesting the fruit, connects you to this world in a way that few other activities can. And that’s what I was missing: the connection.
Food has been bringing us together since the dawn of human inhabitation of Earth. Tribes eat together. They fight together, they live together, and they die together. The military offers this dynamic, too, and it’s one of its most enduring strengths. It’s also what is missing in our world today. We miss having a tribe.
Growing local food can bring that tribe back together. It can create community where it is lacking, for those of us who are missing it. Whole generations of people are missing out on community and fresh food. Creating a tribe using local food has given me a mission again. It’s connected me to nature, to my food, and to people.
Everything about organic gardening is about creating. Creating soil that moves and breathes and is on a mission to make us into healthy people and to create a healthy environment. All of that in order to feed people and make them healthy and strong, nutrient-dense folks! For many of us veterans, gardening is about creating during our remaining time here instead of destroying. To my fellow veterans and their supporters, happy gardening.
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