Article originally appeared in Good Grit Magazine.
Words by Jennifer Kornegay.
Photos by Jonathan Wade/
“I had a Marine here recently whose wife had left him. He was at rock bottom, on the edge of suicide,” says Jon Jackson, former U.S. Army Ranger and founder of Comfort Farms in Milledgeville, Georgia. “He’s telling me all this, and I say, ‘I hear you. I understand. But right now, I’ve got vegetables to get in, eggs to pull, and pigs to catch, so let’s get to work.’” After two labor-intense days on the farm, Jon sat down with the man for another chat. “We worked our butts off, and after that, he had a different perspective.” The focus had shifted from his personal woes to the demands of farm life, which are many and never-ending.
Dirty hands, sweaty brows, and sore backs (from chasing unruly piglets) might not be the most obvious prescription for PTSD and other issues faced by veterans, yet Jon repeatedly sees how this combination of experiences and encounters can be a powerful balm for the depression, anxiety, and dark thoughts that often haunt our military service men and women when they come home from active duty. And that’s the mission of Comfort Farms: serving the veterans who’ve served us, using agriculture therapy.
Comfort Farms raises rabbits, laying chickens, and Heritage breed hogs. It also uses all organic methods to grow the produce sold at its onsite weekend market and to some of nearby Atlanta’s hottest restaurants—spots like Staplehouse, Miller Union, The Butcher The Baker, Two Urban Licks, and more. The farm earns its customers with quality products; Jackson is particularly proud of the pork. “We can’t compete with larger commercial farms, so we do what we do best, small-batch with dynamic flavor,” he says. “And that flavor is specific to where we are.” Jackson believes that hogs are like wine, that their taste is tied to where they are raised. “A hog brought up in the red clay and oak flats of middle Georgia will taste different than a hog raised in Oklahoma,” he says. Comfort Farms is also growing vegetables not common to the area, such as asparagus and artichokes, along with the standards: collards, cabbage, carrots, and lettuces, often using heirloom seeds.
The business side of the farm has been successful, but pulling vets back from the brink is Comfort Farms’ core purpose, one that Jackson created in response to a need he once had. After the diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury in 2013 led to his medical retirement from the military, he was searching for his next step. Battling PTSD and other complications related to his injury, he had his own brush with suicidal thoughts. After he made it past them, he began volunteering with programs that helped fellow veterans, and he noticed some big gaps. “I felt like some of them weren’t addressing the problems; they were more like bandages,” he said. So he started his own non-profit, STAG Vets (Strength to Achieve Greatness).
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