BALTIMORE — When Brittany Davis’ hands are in the soil—her mind is free
“Being out here working with nature, it’s really been a healing factor for me,” said Davis.
Davis is a United States Navy Veteran who comes from a family of American heroes.
Joining the service was a given—knowing the correct ratio for soil and how to identify weed versus sprout? Not so much.
“We planted this, and it just keeps coming back,” Davis said. “It’s one of the things I think people like about TALMAR. You don’t find this variety and it’s not even a spinach it’s part of the Brassica Family but once you plant it keeps on producing so it’s an important component in sustainable agriculture.”
The VA Maryland Health Care System was one of ten facilities in the country that was awarded funding to pilot the program.
Cate Murphy is the Founder and CEO of TALMAR which stands for Therapeutic Alternatives of Maryland.
“When one works in the earth out in nature especially in this beautiful farm we get to be kind of in solace with ourselves,” said Murphy. “We’re able to deflect and reflect on our lives, but there is no pressure.”
The new program runs in 3 separate sessions, with an option for the students to enroll in an extended program where they do individual projects that stay on the farm.
“The skills that they did have, maybe they’ve lost somewhat along the way but this helps them regain those skills,” said Murphy.
Three 14-week session of training have been provided to 22 veterans, including United States Navy Veteran Charles Wolz who is in the advanced training.
“You feel a sense of accomplishment knowing you started with nothing,” Wolz said. “To be able to prepare the fields for planting,planting to harvest. Being able to donate the food to give back it’s just a very rewarding experience.”
The VA of Maryland got a $260 thousand dollar grant this year for the program.
Part of the grant is a stipend of more than $50,000 for the veterans as they transition back into civilian life.
Laverne Harmon is the Program Manager for Vocational Rehab Services for the VA of Maryland.
“This has helped veterans to remain engaged in treatment,” said Harmon. “Sometimes veterans don’t want to go to a hospital. This is something that they can relate to, they enjoy, and they will stay connected to a program.”
That connection was hard to find for United States Marine Corps Veteran Jennifer McGowan.
She got laid off 8 months after she got home.
She wanted to go back in but couldn't because of a slipped disk.
“I loved serving and then that wasn’t possible, so I had a hard time finding my place,” said McGowan.
Her life was uprooted, but she has been gaining ground through the program.
“I also have an 8-year-old so learning about how to grow fruits and vegetables builds a bond with my son also there’s lots of things we can do. It changed my eating habits and thinking about his as well.”
For all the veterans the best part is seeing their brothers and sisters in arms grow along wit the field that they plant.
“I just want to do something good for my community,” Davis said. “I think once we get more educated on the aspects and benefits of agriculture that will be a definite possibility.”