Veterans Healing Farm is a nonprofit community farm in Hendersonville. The farm grows vegetables and hops and even has a community supported agriculture program. But founder John Mahshie says that farming is really just a means to an end. The real goal of Veterans Healing Farm is therapeutic — it addresses the high rate of veteran suicide by helping returning veterans reintegrate into civilian life.
“The military is very tight-knit,” says Mahshie, himself an Air Force veteran. “There’s a lot of community opportunities because everybody is going through a similar experience, and even when you’re relocated, the new community is very welcoming. It’s not as easy to plug into a new community in civilian culture.”
Like many veterans, Mahshie says he also experienced isolation when he left the service. But he soon realized the rejuvenative value of the exercise, healthy eating and time spent in the sun that comes with farming. Not to mention the potential for interaction with others. At Veterans Healing Farm, Mahshie invites civilians, other veterans, families, students and seniors to work at the farm, introducing returning veterans to a diverse selection of their new community. “It’s a natural fit for this sort of healing,” he says.
Though Mahshie studied horticulture after his time in the service and started his own agriculture-based business before founding VHF, he says the goal of the farm isn’t to teach veterans to become farmers.
“Other programs emphasize occupation, teaching veterans a skill set that they can use as a basis for a new career, but what we create is an environment that focuses on personal development,” Mahshie says. “If you have someone who is emotionally, mentally or psychologically unhealthy, and all you give them is financial health, then the money can actually lead to bigger problems down the road. You have to help them heal in those other areas first.”
And perhaps more importantly, Mahshie says, Veterans Healing Farm’s new garden (three times larger than its CSA plot) grows food entirely for donation — giving veterans a sense of purpose and a reason to break out of isolation and connect with others.
“These folks have a strong desire to serve,” Mahshie says. “They are very mission-minded; they want to give back. The new garden allows them to serve people in need, and it allows us to build relationships with them.”