The first time Sonia Kendrick got out in her fields of tomatoes, cucumbers and corn, something magical happened. “It was as if the earth had grounded me,” she says.
Kendrick served in the Army and National Guard for nine years, including eight months in Afghanistan. She has PTSD. Around 2009, she started farming in her hometown near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kendrick says veterans like her don’t want office jobs. She says, when you’ve almost lost your life repeatedly, it’s hard to care about office rules. So farming’s perfect.
“You're not in a cubicle playing bureaucratic rules, I don’t think we enjoy,” she explains.
So many veterans have turned to farming, the Agriculture Department has created special programs to help them. The department says 45 percent of service members are from rural areas. Non-profits are springing up to teach them how to farm -- groups like Growing Warriors, based on a 286-acre spread in eastern Kentucky.
Kevin Lanzi is the farm manager. He’s been farming for about five years. He’s a former Marine who spent almost 10 months in Iraq. He’s also got PTSD. He says he spent years trying to find himself after leaving the military.
“I finally found farming and, ever since I’ve never looked back," Lanzi says. "Just seeing what you’re making. The responsibility is all you. It’s awesome.”
Why does farming seem to help veterans with PTSD?
“They’re distracted. They’re engaged in something that’s fun and they don’t necessarily have to think about or it’s easier to avoid those memories and thoughts of the traumatic event,” says Craig Bryan, head of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.
But Bryan says farming offers only temporary relief from PTSD symptoms. Veterans suffering from it still need therapy. Those I talked to all have done therapy. They say it helps. But only if they can farm, too.