BY MELANIE BIANCHI | BOLD LIFE MAGAZINE
U.S. Airman and horticulturist John Mahshie and his wife, Nicole, run Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville. The expansive garden fosters community between military families and civilians.
Home-and-garden tours have gone underground. At one stop on the Environmental and Conservation Organization’s upcoming self-guided driving event, participants can learn about vermiculture, a natural composting method using earthworms.
There’s nothing wrong with showy botanical displays or a gleaming photovoltaic array — in fact, another stop on the tour will be devoted to an on-site Q&A about solar-power installation. However, the green movement is getting more sophisticated, and curious people are digging deeper. Other points of interest include an example of Hügelkultur, a raised-bed method of gardening using decaying logs as fertilizer, and a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat bearing such unusual-for-WNC fruit as figs and kiwi.
The Green Homes and Edible Gardens Tour showcases seven spaces in Henderson County, where ECO, the sponsoring nonprofit, has been based since 1987. The small-home movement is getting bigger every day, and those wishing to shrink their footprint will enjoy the revelation of a moveable miniature office at one venue.
A highlight is the Veterans Healing Farm, a private facility begun last year by vet John Mahshie — a member of the U.S. Air Force and a graduate of Blue Ridge Community College’s horticulture program — and his wife, Nicole Mahshie. The Farm was begun to foster community between military families and between vets and civilians, as well as to provide garden members with fresh produce, including grafted heirloom tomatoes and organic blueberries.
This summer is the Veterans Healing Farm’s first full, official season. When they’re not in the garden rows, the Mahshies are busy navigating the red tape of achieving nonprofit status. Nicole notes: “Many veteran farm programs right now place the emphasis on job training in the field of agriculture. That is not our purpose. If a vet becomes inspired to go on and pursue a career in farming, that’s great. However, our main purpose is to create a healing and therapeutic atmosphere.”
Already, 17 local families are involved in the growing operation. “We are still in the process of connecting with the veteran community and vets who would benefit from participating at the farm,” says Nicole. “We were able to provide a scholarship to a veteran who was in the process of job-hunting and expecting his fifth child. They had to move, because he was able to find a job in Virginia. But we were able to walk alongside them in a very difficult season of their lives, as well as provide them produce. They are doing well now.”
The Mahshies’ vision even includes the eventual upfitting of shipping containers as temporary bunkhouses: a rural retreat or “transition camp” where vets can, for six months, rest and reflect in a rural environment away from the sometimes debilitating stress of instant civilian re-immersion.
Meanwhile, despite a rainy, cool July, the Mahshies expect to yield around 1,000 ears of corn by late summer. Their staked spreads of organic hops have grown almost to the height of telephone poles.
“They’re kind of a novelty,” Nicole admits. “We’ve given the hops to friends and farm members who homebrew. So far it’s been fun to barter hops for beer, but we could potentially increase the size of our hops yard in the future.
“We do like growing oddities — we are currently looking into planting paw-paw trees, which are super cancer-fighting. We also are growing the world’s second hottest pepper, the Trinidad scorpion. We love seeing all these unusual and uncommon plants grow.
“We hope to inspire others through the innovative techniques we have implemented,” she continues. “[Tour participants] will see that gardening can be minimally taxing and bountiful.”
And also pretty: soil-deep and beyond.
“We hope they catch our vision to use the beautiful and therapeutic atmosphere of the farm to help veterans transition back to civilian life.”
ECO’s Green Homes and Edible Gardens Tour is Saturday, Aug. 9. 10 am-4 pm. General admission is $12. 828-692-0385. Eco-wnc.org
Photos by Tim Robison