The sense of a loss of mission can be huge for veterans transitioning into civilian life — often, a civilian job can’t replicate the feeling of purpose and community many who have served in the armed forces are used to.
The vision John Mahshie has for the Veterans Healing Farm includes that support – presented in a rounded, holistic approach that feeds multiple layers of needs for both veterans and their families. A planned community center slated to open in the spring will allow the Healing Farm to further its mission by offering Holistic Training Boot Camps.
“I think the coolest thing about it is that there’s nothing like it in the country,” said Mahshie, who started operating the farm on Shaw’s Creek in Hendersonville last year. “The goal is to create an intentional, intensive educational approach that will provide veterans with the tools they need.”
Two former shipping containers – recently purchased at deep discounts – will house veterans for the boot camps; an eight-bed dorm is already set up in one and a kitchen will be outfitted in a smaller container.
A crowdfunding campaign with a $60,000 goal for completing the center has just been launched. The two structures will be connected with a large partially covered wooden deck that will provide outdoor classroom space.
Donated solar panels are giving the center a boost; once installed, the 10 kilowatts of power the panels are capable of producing will negate any electrical costs, aiding in the Healing Farm’s mission to offer the boot camps to veterans at no charge.
“The farm provides an environment where they can transition from a place of needing respite to a place of being empowered,” said Director of Operations Brandon Sirois, a former U.S. Army medic whoserved in Iraq.
Sirois recently joined the four-person staff at the Healing Farm, as did Abby Clark, a former member of the Coast Guard and graduate of Berea College who is excited about her role as garden manager.
The Healing Farm team uses the analogy of Lt. Dan Taylor’s rise to a new life in the film “Forrest Gump” to illustrate the bottom-up healing process their organization adheres to. In the movie, a friendship is first re-established with Gump, followed by hard physical activity on a shrimp boat, which provides a space for Taylor to heal, and finally, personal empowerment, symbolized by Taylor getting prosthetic legs.
With 8,000 suicides a year among U.S. veterans, Mahshie said the need for deep healing exists among those who have served our country.
The boot camps will focus on a range of farming-related skills in a truly holistic training, for both “body and soul,” he said.
Education in skilled vocations like beekeeping, growing mushrooms, horticulture and animal husbandry will be combined with yoga classes and workshops such as healing with medicinal herbs.
Veterans may find a new mission in a farming career, Mahshie said, or skills that vets can in turn teach to others.
The Healing Farm plans to have interested vets take the boot camp model and expand it throughout the country in an open-source manner in any way that might work best in a given situation.
“Our purpose is to have a diverse community – veterans and non-veterans, conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious,” said Mahshie. “It’s a multifaceted, holistic approach.”
The organization’s current facets of operation include a micro-community with a focus on food: gardening and eating nutritionally dense produce and animal products, like the farm-fresh eggs from the farm’s newly acquired chickens. The community — or “tribe”— meets formally twice a month to share food in a potluck.
The number of veterans the healing farm serves has doubled from 15 last year to 30, and the amount of people served is about 100 when counting the families of the vets, said Nicole Mahshie, John’s wife and the healing farm’s administrator.
Former Marine and Purple Heart veteran Matthew Walton is grateful for the community at the Healing Farm.
“It certainly lives up to its name — to provide opportunities to veterans and, in my case, to take a break and provide healing,” Walton said. “There are certain times veterans need a helping hand and a safe environment for growth.”
For vets who aren’t ready for the social contact, a “donation garden” provides a therapeutic space to work in peace. The garden produced 3,500 pounds of produce this year, which was donated to Interfaith Assistance Ministries, Mahshie said.
“The food is a means to an end,” he said. “The goal in planting is to plant more than enough; every year it gets better and better.” Veterans can take as much food for themselves and their families as they need for a discounted rate; working on the farm is not required.
Equine therapy is another way those with post-traumatic stress disorder can heal. Partner organization Horse Sense of the Carolinas started bringing horses to the farm this summer and will continue to visit on a regular basis next season.
Adventure trips are offered to veterans and their families, such as kayaking or zip-lining. A trip is planned this Saturday to Navitat Asheville, when any veteran can zip-line free of charge. Navitat is donating 10 percent of sales that day as well as the proceeds of a raffle to the Healing Farm. Advanced reservations are required.
To make an online donation to the Veterans Healing Farm, visit: razoo.com/story/Vhf
By Beth De Bona
Times-News Staff Writer