Lynne Hayes, Growing America
Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
“The reality is, over time those folks won’t be able to continue farming, and the question for all of us is, if they don’t, who will?”
That was the question posed by Agriculture Secretary, Tom Villsack, in 2014 after the release of a somewhat gloomy government census of American agriculture. The surv
ey, taken every five years, found that a third of U.S. farmers were older than 65 in 2012, with the average age being 58.3 years old.
While the survey noted a small rise in the number of farmers aged 25-34, the hole left by older farmers retiring or dying is large and will likely grow larger. And as we begin 2016, Villsack’s plaintive question continues to echo loud across rural America.
But Jon Jackson believes he knows 300,000 men and women that he can h
elp step up to the job.
Jackson, a military veteran who served six deployments and fought with the Rangers in Afghanistan, is the founder of an inspiring displaced veterans’ assistance program called STAG VETS.
STAG VETS, a non-profit organization based in Milledgeville, Georgia, whose tagline is, “Transforming lives, one seed at a time.”
Their mission is to rekindle the “strength to achieve greatness” among homeless, in need vets, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI). The key treatment? Turning wounded warriors into self-sufficient, self-sustaining farmers and culinary experts.
“For decades, the only real option veterans had for care has been the VA,” says Jackson, “but medication and talk therapy are basically like a Band-Aid on a deep, deep wound. Vets deserve a holistic, thoughtful approach that strengthens their whole being rather than simply numbs or subdues them.”
Jackson, himself, sustained a TBI during his service to our country, so he understands, firsthand, the challenges faced by wounded vets.
In contrast, Jackson also understands firsthand the satisfaction and reward that comes from farming. His dad was a lifelong farmer in LaGrange, GA, and today, Jackson remains deeply tied to nature; he is a woodsman, hunter and forager, and also enjoys turning his bounty into gourmet meals.
“Farming is all about renewal, and so is STAG VETS,” says Jackson. “We believe the practice of farming provides the discipline and structure that vets crave, while reigniting the sense of pride they developed when they served.”
STAGVETS has big dreams – Jackson and his team hope to establish a operation of 500 to 1000 acres somewhere in the Southeast, as the hub of the program, with smaller operations spread across the region, and ultimately across the country.
“Each operation would be a self-sufficient business,” explains Jackson, “one that nurtures the veterans who work it, stimulates the economy, and, most important, expands the availability of quality locally-grown organic food to all socio-economic groups. As the vets grow their business and market their products, they become self-sustaining, productive members of their community again.”
Jackson also envisions the hub as a campus offering a holistic approach to healing. At its core would be what he calls The Warrior Healing Center, where vets would receive mental and physical care and rehabilitation; there would be a learning center, where vets would receive six months of agri-business and culinary skills training; and, of course, a farm, where vets would gain confidence and a sense of purpose as they put those skills to use raising a variety of crops, tending to livestock, running associated businesses, and much more.
At this writing, a piece of that dream is becoming a reality. Jackson is in the process of moving onto a 25-acre property, donated to STAG VETS by another charitable organization.
“It’s far from ready to be called a farm,” says Jackson, “but we’re ready to dig in and make it happen. It will become a shining example of what we can do on a much larger scale someday.”
Of course, the question is, “if you build it, will they come?” Jackson is quick and sure with his answer.
“I have veterans waiting in line asking ‘when can I start, when can I start?’ They are excited for this opportunity to heal in a way that’s never been offered to them before,” says Jackson. “They need and deserve an organization that they can trust and not leave them feeling marginalized, or worse, kicked to the curb. Vets want to lead a purposeful life just like everyone else—a life centered around agriculture can help them do that.”
For more information about STAG VETS, please visit their website: www.stagvetsinc.org
If you’re interested in making a financial donation, grant, or an in-kind donation of land, equipment or other goods, write to Jon Jackson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: STAG VETS Inc., 347 Horace Veal Rd., Milledgeville, GA 31061.
Hayes, L. (2016, January 12). New Program Strives to Heal Wounded Warriors Through Farming | Growing America. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://growinggeorgia.com/features/2016/01/new-program-strives-heal-wounded-warriors-through-farming/?utm_source=Growing Georgia