By Vica Kazantseva
“To empower military veterans to grow food, communities and each other.” This is the mission statement from Growing Veterans, a non-profit organization located in Mt. Vernon and Lynden, dedicated to “creating a holistic solution” to fighting multiple issues veterans face- unemployment, homelessness, suicide, and depression, through empowering veterans to approach sustainable agricultural practices and to better the health of the community through organic food.
According to the Growing Veterans website, “In 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a study which discovered for 10 years running; there was an average of 18-22 veteran suicides per day in the United States.” Growing Veterans is determined to “provide a place where veterans can get together in support of a positive and worthy cause”. Their vision is “To end the isolation that leads to suicide and to make sustainable agriculture the norm.” The hope of Growing veterans is to end veteran suicide by attacking the problem of isolation head on. Growing Veterans acknowledges this problem that veterans may feel coming home to their family and community. Many veterans feel they do not have the proper support. Growing Veterans wanted to change this by being a place where veterans could come together and have common ground while simultaneously changing the system “literally from the ground up” as their website states.
The Growing Veterans logo represents an upside down military helmet with vegetables growing out of it. It represents the end of military service and “acknowledges that we can never forget our roots.” The vegetables emerging represent “the abundance of life that we grow and sustain, physically and metaphorically.” The seal represents military emblems, giving us a new emblem to take pride in.”
Christopher Brown is the director and also the co-founder of Growing Veterans. A US Marine combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and Purple Heart recipient, in 2012 he was originally searching for an opportunity to start a non-profit organization that could reintegrate veterans back into the community after serving, through agriculture, hence the term “Growing Veterans.” He teamed up with Chris Wolf, the current operations manager. She was experienced with farming and has a master’s degree in counseling, which went hand in hand with their mission.
A culmination of ideas from a group of veterans, Growing Veterans was established about 3 years ago and is already creating a huge impact on the community. Their Farm-To-Market, Outpost, and Peer-Support programs have reached out to many veterans empowering them to get involved in the community and allowing them to gain skills they will use for a lifetime. The two have been running Growing veterans ever since with a crew of veterans and non-veterans helping to maintain the gardens at the two current locations, Skagit (Mt. Vernon) and Lynden.
“The Whatcom farm was our first location and is currently being put to rest and having nutrients reintroduced to the soil. The Starbird location will be our main production site starting this year and we’re going to start building a greenhouse as well,” said Sean Dalgarn, the Volunteer coordinator. The vegetables that are grown at the farms are sold at a local farmer’s market, donated, and best of all eaten.
Another thing Growing Veterans does is provide volunteer opportunities for people who like to get their hands dirty. It’s not just veterans that can participate, in fact they are trying to integrate more community members and will soon be implementing more opportunities for that. Whatcom geology classes venture over to the farm as a field trip opportunity when learning about water quality and soil quality as a part of their curriculum. Veterans and community members that want to volunteer can connect with Sean Dalgarn through growingveterans.org and schedule a time to come visit the farm and get a tour.