Program is Turning Warriors to Farmers Across W.Va.
As the country continues to struggle to help its military members returning from war, one fledgling program in West Virginia isn’t wasting any time tackling the issues veterans face.
From transitional job training to psychological therapy, members of the Warriors and Veterans to Agriculture Program say they’re discovering they can help West Virginia veterans in more ways than they ever anticipated.
The program stemmed from an idea James McCormick had in 2009. He’d returned from war with multiple gunshots wounds, suffering from PTSD, and found solace in working with the dirt.
He started his own farm, supplying sorghum to a local festival, and began connecting with other veterans who were interested in starting farms of their own.
By 2014, McCormick had drummed up support from veteran groups and the newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick. He took his group to the statehouse to start shaking hands with lawmakers to get a bill passed, but said he made those visits not as a lobbyist, but as a constituent asking his legislators for their support.
The bill was passed with little opposition during the 2014 legislative session, but without funding. McCormick has worked to get local grants, money from universities and has partnered with the Department of Veterans Assistance and the West Virginia Women’s Coalition to provide supplies and necessary training to interested veterans.
One of those veterans was Eric Grandon who says the program has helped him in two ways.
Grandon is a 20-year Army veteran who suffers from PTSD and is disabled, unable to qualify for a job in the physical therapy field for which he was trained.
Grandon lives on his family farm in Clay County that, until he got involved in the program, was just a small garden, but working with program director James McCormick has become his lifeblood. Grandon sells his produce at area farmers’ markets and even supplies food to Clay County Schools as a part of their Farm to School program.
Farming has given him a second chance, Grandon said, helping him provide for his family while he reaps other benefits.
Another ancillary benefits is therapy. Since increasing the size of his farm, Grandon says he has stopped having to meet with VA therapists to deal with his PTSD. Instead, he works with his plants and tends to his two new beehives, provided by the Warriors to Agriculture Program earlier this year.
Grandon’s experience though, isn’t unlike many who participate in the program according to BethAnn Earl, a Navy vet who runs an urban farm in Huntington.
“I actually had a veteran say to me, he said when he picked up the dirt and he rubbed it all over his hands and arms, he said it wasn’t until then that the blood came off his hands,” she said.
The Warriors and Veterans to Agriculture program is averaging about seven to 10 applicants a week and has trains veterans in planting and maintain row crops, bees hives and livestock.