Food is more than just fuel for our bodies; it can also be fuel for the soul.
Growing it can do a lot of good too. That’s what Fields 4 Valor is all about.
The group's founder, Peter Scott, left the Army after 12 years as a counterintelligence agent. As he searched for what he wanted to do next, he struggled to find his purpose.
“I had some issues with the things I’d done and seen. I really needed to feel as if I was bringing something good and positive into the world,” he told WUSA9, Washington, D.C.’s CBS affiliate.
What he found was a mission to grow food for veterans like himself and their families. He founded Fields 4 Valor, a sustainable farm that uses community-supported agriculture techniques, in 2016.
“I had a strong desire to be able to actually make something,” Scott told Military.com. “I didn’t grow up on a farm or gardening, I kind of came to it as an interest after service and taking a deep dive into food. I found that I really enjoyed it and found it over all a very peaceful activity that was good for my mind and soul. And I could also share it with others.”
It came about after Scott gave a box of home-grown vegetables to chaplain services, asking if they would be able to give them to someone who needed it. He realized that he loved being able to help others through fresh food, planting the seed for the idea that grew into Farms 4 Valor.
Soon after, he was sowing those seeds in the backyard of a friend in Hyattsville, Maryland supporting two veteran families with two 60-foot rows.
For two years, that was enough. As time went on and the number of families receiving vegetables grew, Scott realized he needed more space. So Scott leased a 7-acre plot in nearby Brandywine to continue growing. Now, with the help of a handful of other volunteer veterans, it supports 13 veteran families using one half-acre.
And those family members stop by the farm to do their part.
“It’s a way for me to make sense and peace of the world,” Scott told WUSA9 about his work on the farm. “I had some issues with the things I’d done and seen. I really needed to feel as if I was bringing something good and positive into the world.”
Aside from seasonal produce, Fields 4 Valor also produces honey. If a veteran wants to learn to do their own urban beekeeping, they can come to Fields 4 Valor and learn how.
"A lot of times, our skills are not transferable from the military,” said Army veteran Antoinette LaForce, now a Farm Manager at Fields 4 Valor. “It's kind of on our shoulders as veterans and military families to look to our left and right and pull together what's happening."
LaForce was once homeless but began to work on the farm, along with other veterans. These days, she continues to donate her time to the effort.
And the effort is working. In four years’ time, the number of families supported by the farm has grown from 2 to 13 and the shares of produce have increased from 3 to 10 shares each, meaning when the harvest is divided, each family now gets significantly more.
This saves the families some $300 or more on their food bill every month, money that can be used elsewhere.
“For me, I feel that farming is an innately good act,” says the former counterintelligence agent. “I get connection and grounding out of working the farm and a sense of purpose with the mission of helping others. I’m finding more veterans out there who get the same effect from what we do and I’m hoping to find more.”
In the next year, Scott expects that number to increase in support to four more food-insecure families in the D.C. area by hiring local farmers and expanding food offerings to perennial plants, to continue the mission of providing healthy foods for those veterans and their families as they transition back to civilian life.
“We’re here to serve those that serve the country and were willing to put down their lives for it,” says Scott. “The idea is if you fought for your country or signed a blank check, you shouldn't have to go hungry.”
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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