A grievous loss soon after John Mahshie joined the Air Force in 2000 planted the seed for Veterans Healing Farm, the multifaceted nonprofit he launched in 2013. “My father passed away, and I was really struggling,” he recounts. “On a service trip to Mexico with my base chaplain, I put in a little garden for a family there. Connecting with the earth, having my hands in soil, giving back, was very therapeutic.”
After returning from the service, Mahshie cultivated his vision on family land in Hendersonville, recruiting 13 families — veterans and civilians alike — to each invest $100 and sweat equity in exchange for a season’s worth of produce. With the farm up and running, he and his supporters started to give back: Since 2015, the farm has donated over 35,000 pounds of produce to veterans and their caregivers. Every Tuesday morning during the growing season, the VHF van unloads vegetables, fruits and flower bouquets at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville for a free open-air market.
In addition to civilians and vets farming and volunteering side by side, the farm offers veterans-exclusive boot camps in beekeeping, medicinal herbs and making guitars out of cigar boxes. “These boot camps are empowering,” Mahshie says. “After they leave the farm, they can be part of a bee club, a medicinal herb meetup or [play with] other musicians. They are healthy, healing ways for vets to connect with community.”
Editor’s note: As part of our monthlong celebration of this region’s commitment to sustainable ways of living and working in community, Xpress is highlighting some of those who are making a difference by taking action on a variety of creative and inspiring initiatives.