It’s quiet at Kokopelli organic berry farm except for the occasional proud exultation of a laying hen. Farmer Dr. Shepherd Bliss loves it that way; the quiet gives him peace after his own post-traumatic stress disorder from joining the army during the Vietnam era. Dr. Bliss grew up in a famous military family (the same one that gave its name to Fort Bliss, TX, one of the U.S. Army’s largest training posts) and teaches part-time at Sonoma State University when not tending to his farm in rural Sebastopol, CA. He has written extensively about the new fields of Agrotherapy and Agropsychology, how farming and working in rural settings can provide therapeutic benefits. “Farming is physical, it's one of the best health insurances you can have. It keeps your body active. You can swing a scythe, mow and prune and be assertive; you can discharge [tension] in that way instead of violent ways,” Dr. Bliss told The Almanac. “Farms can heal.” Bliss is a contributor to the Sierra Club Book Ecotherapy – Healing with Nature in Mind and has written extensively on the subject.
Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have the opportunity to work the land, whether for therapy or to start up their own farms, aided by organizations working on veterans’ behalf that have paired up with organic farms in California and beyond. The Davis, CA-based Farmer-Veteran Coalition (FVC) holds farming retreats, job training, and career fairs and offers support for vets seeking a future in agriculture. Larry Jacob of Jacob’s Farm Organic in Pescadero, CA (who supplies The FruitGuys with delectable herbs for the TakeHome cases) is a founding member of FVC. “Plants are healing to be around and provide an honest day's pay...” Larry told The Almanac. “So many young men and women return from the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without direction and needing a space to adjust. We need young, creative people growing food while the average farmer age is over 55.”
A resource for vets seeking land is California Farm Link, a group that hooks up aspiring farmers with retiring farmers. Also present at FVC events is The San Francisco vet advocacy organization Swords to Ploughshares, their name refers to the biblical phrase, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Farms Not Arms has offices in California and Tennessee to help veterans get into farming.
Michael Porter, Director of Career Development for FVC, said, “It’s a reverse pyramid. Vets can see if the idea of farming appeals to them, maybe get an internship – which might lead to more learning. And then, from there perhaps it’s on to a self-standing farm.” The farmers who support veterans realize that it will be a slow process. "We're building a sub-structure now, and in the coming years it could be very important. I think FVC understands it’s complicated, and principally not political," added Dr. Bliss.
For more information on upcoming Food and Farming Veteran Career Fairs or to host a table at a veterans event near you contact FVC at email@example.com or (530)756-1395.
- Heidi Lewis