Trading Arms for Farms / Nadia McCaffrey (Mother) Trading Arms for Farms
A new movement is finding work for returning Iraq veterans on small-scale farms across the country. The results have been positive for vets -- and for struggling rural communities.
Megan Tady December 4, 2007
Finally home from combat in Iraq, Steve Edwards felt detached from his friends and family. Edwards had witnessed the highly publicized death of his friend, California National Guardsman Patrick McCaffrey, in June 2004. Edwards was the first to tell Patrick's mother what the military would not: Patrick was shot by the Iraqi soldier he was training. The Pentagon eventually acknowledged these claims in 2006.
Edwards himself was also injured by a roadside bomb that left him with a limp.
"I was happy to be home; I was happy to be with my wife and daughter again," Edwards said. "But even with family, I just didn't feel like I belonged anymore. At least, I didn't feel like I belonged around people like my wife and daughter, who were just innocent."
Suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Edwards withdrew. One particularly dark night, he called Patrick's mother, Nadia McCaffrey, who had been counseling many veterans who had served with her son. Edwards had locked himself in a room, and wouldn't come out, he told Nadia, until he understood what was happening to him.
The next day, Nadia arranged for Edwards to get help -- not through treatment at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, but at a monastery in Oregon. Edwards' plight solidified what Nadia had already been thinking: Struggling war veterans need to get back to the land to find peace.
In 2007, Nadia created the Veterans’ Village, an organization seeking farmland where veterans can work and rehabilitate. Construction is nearly finished on a farm in Sonoma County, California, and additional "villages" are planned for upstate New York and North Carolina.
"The only thing that helped him was to get him to a different state of mind," she said. "I hear it over and over [from vets] that they just want to be out in nature. Why? Because its freedom. It's not a challenge. And it's really satisfying for them when they plant something and watch it grow. It's not for everybody. But many of the veterans will find peace this way."
An Unfamiliar Life
Earlier this month, CBS reported that over 120 veterans committed suicide each week in 2005. Around the same time, a U.S. Army survey found that 25 percent of active-duty soldiers and 50 percent of reservists were receiving or needed mental health services after combat. Almost a quarter of America's homeless population are war veterans.
"Our veterans are coming home, but they're not being taken care of the way they should," Nadia said. Spit out by the war machine, veterans often encounter red tape and hoops at the VA.
"Most vets, when they come back, especially the younger vets, they don't realize the benefits they have because the military doesn't tell them," Edwards said. "And the VA doesn't exactly say, 'Hey, come on back to the VA, we'll help you out.' They don't advertise. You don't know where to get help. You're lost."
Along with being rebuffed by the VA, Edwards said it was difficult when his family tried to understand what he had been through in Iraq.
"You already feel awkward enough about what you've gone through," Edwards said. "But [your family is] sitting there trying to understand you instead of accepting you; it makes you feel even more detached."
Day-to-day tasks became difficult for Edwards. Being in a crowd of people was especially trying. "There were a lot of crowds [in Iraq], a lot of confusion and activity going on," Edwards said. "When I get out in crowds and around a lot of people, I become very anxious and that army training, that hyper-vigilance of wanting to pay attention to everything and everybody and look for escape routes, that kicks in."
Nadia, who has perhaps stepped in to help mentor veterans the way she would have comforted her own son, says soldiers like Edwards are just not easily able to reintegrate into society.
"The life that was so familiar to them in the past has become something completely foreign to them," Nadia said. "They don't fit anymore. They don't function as the father, the husband, or the son that they were."
When Nadia first began envisioning the Veterans’ Village, she asked Edwards to join her. He agreed, and is now a board member of the organization.
Edwards is hopeful that a farming environment will be healing for veterans. "It's peaceful and tranquil," he said. "You're getting back to nature. You're getting back to the earth. Just the serenity of being on a farm will really help a great number of vets struggling with PTSD or finding their place in society again."
Veterans Make New Farmers
Nadia and Edwards aren't alone in their back-to-the-land philosophy. They're joined by dozens of other organizations and small farms across the country looking to place struggling vets in agricultural communities.
Along with assisting Nadia with acquiring the land for the first Veterans’ Village in California, the organization Farms Not Arms is helping veterans connect with seasonal jobs and internships on farms across the nation. The organization is supported by the Family Farm Defenders, Global Exchange, and a long list of farms and businesses.
Farms are "a place to give [vets] work and vocational training and just a healthy living environment," said Michael O'Gorman, one of the founders of Farms Not Arms.
Another coalition, the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, is bridging the relationship between farmers and vets. And the organization Veteran Homestead has built "Victory Farm," a supportive housing program for veterans located on an 80-acre working organic vegetable farm in New Hampshire.
O'Gorman says the agriculture push is not one-sided. Just as veterans have been affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so too have rural and farming communities in the United States. According to a 2007 Carsey Institute study, young adults from rural areas enlist in the military at disproportionately higher rates than other areas because of lack of other opportunities. The study concluded that the death rate for rural soldiers was 48 percent higher than the rate for soldiers from the city or suburbs.
"We're in such dire need of new farmers that maybe by bringing the veterans onto the farms as a place to heal, we can also hopefully find some new young blood to go into agriculture," O'Gorman said. "It's kind of a mutual self-help thing."
Since its inception, Farms Not Arms has been highlighting the affects of U.S. militarism on rural communities. He said farmers are "being written off, or sacrificed for this war." Their anti-war message is rooted in opposing the "enormous waste of resources" for war that threatens farm work, according to the Web site.
"We're really on the front lines of this war because of the heavy tolls it's taking on the rural communities," O'Gorman said. "And we're on the front line of global warming because we deal with it in our vocation. We're dealing with the loss of farmers and farm land. So we're really seeing all of these issues tied together as upside-down priorities of our country."
O'Gorman, who has been farming for 37 years, says the biggest farming crisis is the lack of new, young farmers. "With free trade agreements, people just think we can get the food from somewhere else," he said. "I don't think that's healthy for our national security, or for the quality of our life or our food. We're going to wake up one day and regret that we didn't train a new generation of people how to feed ourselves."
For Edwards, he's just hoping a little farm work will go a long way in helping veterans. "I don't care what war, what era. I just want better help and better care for any and all veterans."
Bush's Next Preemptive Strike Harold Meyerson
The CIA's Flim-Flam Man Tara McKelvey
Why Are Iraq War Movies Box-Office Flops? Sudhir Muralidhar
Exporting the Anbar Awakening Spencer Ackerman
An Accidental War with Iran? Brian Beutler
Tags: Iraq/The War on Terror
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More... Megan Tady is a national political reporter for In These Times and a freelance journalist based in Western Massachusetts.
This Dan Rather Special was aired on September 11 2007 In Patrick's Honor and Memory With all my love, Mom
You Can Order the DVD at HDNet Store on line
PS: There is one inexact statement in the report: Patrick was shot 8 times, from three sides....he never had a chance...(The autopsy report confirm this)
In memory of Patrick McCaffrey / Tiffany Ho (friend's daughter ) Dear Uncle Patrick I remember you even thought I meet you a a young age. I wish that you were still here with us now, but we know that you are a hero. And you are a hero in the eyes of thousand of people. We miss you uncle Patrick.
MISSING AND LOVING U / Dino Pena (Brother 4 Life ) HI MOM I AM SOO SORRY FOR NOT CALLING U. ITS JUST SO HARD FOR ME TO TALK TO U AND DAD. ITS BEEN REALY HARD FOR ME. I HAVE DREAMS OF ME AND PATRICK TALKING. I MISS HIM ALOT. I MISS U GUYS TOO I HOPE U AND BOB ARE DOING GOOD. I AM SOORY LOVE U GUYS.
I miss you my friend. / Jim Fussell (Childhood - Lifelong Friend ) Not a day goes by that I don't think about you, your family, your smile and all the wonderful times we had together growing up. Life is simply not the same without you. You are forever in my heart, my thoughts and prayers. I miss you my friend.
You are a Hero / Michael Strickland (none) "I never knew you, but I thank you for everything you did to keep our country free. You are a hero and will never be forgotten."
Sgt Strickland Michael/USMC of Manteca, California
Dear Sweet Patrick / Lila Lipscomb (Mom's Friend ) "Dear Sweet Patrick -
Three years now, you are deeply missed by your family. Life goes on here, but for those who love you time has stopped in so many ways. Your Mother with the deep pain in her heart is in my prayers this day as she wakes to another day with out you her son. Continue to keep your arms of protection around her and your family. In peace and love,"
Lila Lipscomb, Mother of Army Sgt. Michael F. Pedersen, killed 4/2/03 Karbala Iraq of Flint, Michigan
Remembering Patrick, with Love.... / Diana XX (Friend) Ms. Nadia, Your son meant so much to me, more than anything he ever did, just the person he is. He is with God, he is alive. He is alive in you. I seen you hurting on channel 2 news the day before memorial weekend and it weakens my heart & indwells in my spirit to see you. I am very empathetic, compassionate, praying and loving you guys through God. I pray for you, your husband, Sylvia, PJ and Janessa. I also pray for Connie. I thank God for the strength He gives you, Sylvia and the kids....to daily fullfill your walk on earth as God wants you to. I thank Him for the peace, love and joy in your hearts and the gifts you imparted into Patrick that his family is carrying on daily. Through the dark, God will shine His light and through the dark Jesus's red-letter days were a benefit to the world. I am greatful to know your person and be blessed to pray for such special people on earth, you and your immediate family and extended family. With Much Love and Faith!!!!! - Diana
Thinking of you... / Aurora Ortiz (Friend) Nadia and Patrick,
I can't believe it's another year without that smile and laugh. I'm not sure why but this year is harder, but then again I suppose it will never get easier. I love you both and think of you very often. God bless you and the little ones.
A Salute to Sergeant Patrick McCaffrey / Garnet Jenkins (None) June 22, 2007 In Remembrance of this Fine Young Soldier, Sgt. Patrick R. McCaffrey, with so much gratitude for his Courage, Dedication and Service to our Country and for Freedom.
May Patrick, rest safely in God's Care and know that he is a True American hero, that shall Never Be Forgotten. May the Peace of the Lord continue to be with the McCaffrey family. There will Never Be Enough Ways, to Humbly Thank these Young Heroes, for their Sacrifices, my brother among them. Killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.
"And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, there shall be no more pain. For the former things have have passed away." Revelations 21:4
May you find peace in knowing the love and memories you have, will remain in your heart forever and that this Country Remembers Patrick's Sacrifice. I am So Deeply Sorry for your loss. Garnet Jenkins (Grand Junction, CO)
Memories of Patrick / Cathy P. (childhood schoolmate ) Dear Nadia,
Nadia -- I was a school friend of Patrick's from 2nd grade until graduation from Homestead High School in 1989. I wanted to take this opportunity on Memorial Day to offer a few of my many memories of Patrick. I think about him often.
My first memory is on the playground, where he gave me two very nice pieces of silver jewelry (did he raid your jewelry box??) and expressed his heartfelt devotion. I came to know him as someone who felt things deeply and had a tender spirit. I have many vivid, albeit random, memories of our time together in school, like how we always wanted him on our kickball team; how he'd get so nervous during the timed math tests that he'd always break his pencil; that he was the Green Grocer during the 6th grade news show project and told us that Store A was better than Store B because their artichokes were bigger. In 4th grade, Patrick wanted to share a really hilarious poem he found about a girl named Cathy who runs people over in her shiny red car. I tried to wrestle his raised arm down, and got detention. Patrick took me to my first-ever dance in 8th grade. He brought roses.
I remember how he got so thin in 7th/8th grade and how we were so worried about him. I remember how he got beefed up in high school and joined the football team, and I was glad that he was healthy again.
I was so saddened to hear about his death. I pray for him, and you and his wife often. I hope these memories help you through your grief. Please know that he was loved very much and made an impact on those who knew him, even in grade school!
I pray often that you will know the love and comfort of Jesus, and the hope of his resurrection. I pray this for Patrick every chance I get. He was very special. Blessings to you and all the McCaffrey family.
FRANCE M6 TV / Valerie G. (none) Content: M6 TV show in France
Nadia, Tonight, I was watching the M6 TV show Enquete Exclusive, I was crying regarding the war in Iraq and your interview about your son. I just want to say that this war, for me, a French girl (I am 32 years old) makes me very sad when I see the results and all the Heroes who have died there. I am thinking of you, I encourage you for everything, and I am so sorry for Patrick. I just want to say that it is not normal that in France we don't have a lot of TV Shows regarding the soldiers who are still over there, and who are back in America with medical problems. This war is crazy I hope soon American soldiers will be back, and end this war, this war is a big lie for Americans, and I'm so sorry for your nation, I'm so sorry that Bush is acting like that just for oil, because I'm sure that it is the only reason of this war.
I am so sorry... / Dory Miller (High School ) I went to High school with him I am so sorry. I just found out about this with some friends that I was talking with from Homestead High school. The last time I saw Patrick was when he was having problem with his knee and he wanted to get released to join the Guards. I had a great conversation with him and loved catching up with old times. He was a wonderful person. Very caring and loved life. I couldn't believe it until I actually saw his picture. Once again I am so sorry for your loss. God Bless you Dory
On this Mothers Day 2007 with all my love forever / Nadia McCaffrey (Mother)
Saint Patrick's Day, a life time of memories, joy, laughter and sad times. Sweet Heart, you live in everything that I do, I see you in your friends sad memories, I see you in their smiles, I find you in the most unexpected situations. The other day, my friend Gloria told me: everything that you say and do Nadia is about Patrick and always will be... I love you so much, I am missing you in the emptiness of my heart. You are my sunshine. Your Mom always. N.
With all my Love, Sweet Heart / Nadia McCaffrey (Mother) http://afsc.org/iraq/cray-video.htm; Missing you with deep sadness tonight. Thinking what all our lives could of been like....Part of my soul has gone with you my son, may God keep you until we meet again. Forever your Mom. In Peaceful Service, Nadia