'Growing Veterans' provides crucial post-military peer support

When it comes to healing the scars of war, there's a new approach that's far from typical, but members of the military say it works.

It's an approach that's far from typical, but when it comes to healing the scars of war, local veterans say a non-profit called Growing Veterans really works.

The organization seeks to ease the tough transition that is life after the military.  It does so with the help of a farm, and a first-of-its-kind farmer's market stand at the VA Hospital in Seattle.

The goal is empowering veterans to grow food, communities, and each other.  

"More than anything, this provides a space and an opportunity to start a conversation, a very necessary conversation," said Sean Dalgarn.

Dalgarn and fellow veteran Joel Swenson both found Growing Veterans after their time in the military.  For them, the program proved so powerful, Dalgarn and Swenson now help keep the organization's farms running.

"Even a one minute conversation can totally change someone's mind on whether they need to seek help or not," said Swenson.  "We've seen it, me and Sean have seen it."

Swenson served as a combat medic in the Army, and says he struggled with depression and isolation upon getting out of the military.

"I had a platoon of guys I had to take care of.  They relied on me, and I relied on them, and it was life or death situations," said Swenson.  "So once I got out I felt really alone, and isolated and couldn't relate to anyone else unless it was another vet."

Swenson says everything changed when he started spending time on the farm through Growing Veterans.

"It just hit home for me," he said.  "Working with other vets and accomplishing a common goal, and being able to literally see the fruits of your labor."

Growing Veterans' unique model addresses the increasing desire for alternative therapies for PTSD and depression.  It also focuses on peer support and suicide prevention.

"I would say it is absolutely saving lives," said Swenson.  "Once we come out here, I just take a deep breath and it's all okay."

As for the farmer's market they open up every Thursday at the VA Hospital, Dalgarn views that as a form of outreach.

"What's cool is that the vegetables kinda draw people in," he said.  "That's the eye candy that draws people in, and then they come over and we strike up a conversation and the next thing you know we have way more in common than most people would think.  And it leads to a really meaningful and powerful interaction."

Growing Veterans now runs three different farms in the Western Washington area.  One is in Lynden, one is in Mount Vernon, and the third is in Auburn.

To learn more about Growing Veterans or get involved, click here.  All generations of veterans are welcome.

In 2015, Growing Veterans donated 6200 pounds of organic vegetables to low-income vets, local food banks, and organizations that serve the homeless.

Copyright 2016 KING


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