How a farming nonprofit helps veterans reintegrate into civilian life and recover from PTSD


    An average of 20 veterans is suicide each year–a statistic that weighs on the brains of Rich Murphy.

    Murphy, 38, is executive director of Veterans to Farmers, an organization he joined after suffering a devastating trauma and bout with post-traumatic stress ailment( PTSD) in December 2007. Murphy, who had escaped injury during a five-year deployment as a corporal with the U.S. Us air force, was struck in his vehicle at 70 mph by a motorist who had fallen asleep at the wheel, leaving him with a horrible back injury.

    “One of the number one reactions to PTSD is isolation. People merely withdraw, out of anxiety or that they don’t fit in, ” Murphy told. “I had a guy “whos been” the program last year, his wife came up to me and gave me a hug and mentioned,’ thank you, he hasn’t left the house since winter.’[ Veteran to Farmers] is just opening the doorway for these men and women.”

    After his accident, Murphy quit nursing school and discovered employment as a social worker. It was during a stint working for the City of Denver when he fulfilled veterans who he wished had get the care and intervention they needed much sooner.

    A Marine Corps veteran by the epithet of Buck Adams had formed Veterans to Farmers in 2013 and Murphy gratified him in the fall of that year after his wife became aware of the program. The following year, Murphy began to develop a curriculum for the VTF training program. He likewise crisscrossed Colorado, telling everyone about the nascent nonprofit’s merits, and forging the partnership agreement with Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University.

    In 2017, after he’d spend many hours as an teacher, Murphy took over as executive director of the organization when Buck stepped down.

    Rich Murphy, left, discusses Veterans to Farmers at Rebel Farm in Denver, Colorado. At right, a beset honoring U.S. military veterans at Chatfield Farms in Denver Botanic Gardens. ( Christopher Carbone/ Fox News)

    Murphy recalled a full circle moment: During the first two years of VTF, his veteran farmers sold fresh make they’d grown to his previous clients at the Denver Human Service building–thanks to a award that Denver Botanic Garden received to set up a meat stand in the building.

    VTF aims to fill the void between veterans’ skills and the more lackluster undertakings the economy creates by developing them to work in agriculture. As he explains it, there are also less tangible benefits.

    “When you get ten veterans in a greenhouse or out in the field and they start working on flowers together, excavating in the clay and developing things, you watch therapy happen, ” he mentioned , noting further that traditional therapy is more of taboo term in the military.

    Murphy gave Fox News a full tour of Rebel Farm, a hydroponic greenhouse where hundreds of pounds of greens and herbs are grown and harvested every month by former service members. The lingering hum of fans and the music of rock music filled the temperature-controlled, 15,000 -square-foot space. Fellow veterans dutifully checked on the lives of kale, arugula and Bok choy this is gonna be harvested and sold primarily to restaurants.

    “Eight weeks later, you have ten veterans that are all new friends who never would’ve talked to each other had they not been put in a space together. That’s the process, ” Murphy, whose parent, uncle and grandparents likewise served in the military, mentioned. “We realise a lot of veterans preserve those relationships afterwards.”

    Vets who is attending the program “was talkin about a” the importance of its impact.

    Fresh greens and herbs inclined and been increased by U.S. military vets at Rebel Farm in Denver, Colorado. ( Christopher Carbone/ Fox News)

    “Students form a bond very quickly, ” Tara O’Brien, a 12 -year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who took the hydroponics course last year and “il take the” soil course this year, told Fox News.

    O’Brien, 41, said the type of cooperation and problem-solving abilities that go naturally to military veterans are ideal for the country’s food production system, which is undergoing a conversion as consumers demand healthier the possibilities and the availability of organic produce increases.

    “This bond is what we need among the farming community because it’s a uniting of strategy and build something great together that far outperforms the need for rival and secrecy, ” O’Brien, who traveled to over 30 countries during her time in the military forces, told Fox News. “To the core, these men and women are helpers and magnificent leaders and problem solvers–we need this in our food system.”

    Marine Corps veteran Dominic Muranyi came across Veterans to Farmers after being unable to enroll in a booked up horticulture course at a community college in Fort Collins.

    Muranyi took both courses, finding them to be “immeasurably helpful, ” and he’s been working on Murphy’s family farm in Fort Collins, helping out with labor and miscellaneous–including the planned build out of Murphy’s new greenhouse this summer.


    A portion of Chatfield Farms at Denver Botanic Gardens where Veterans to Farmers participants read agriculture skills. ( Christopher Carbone/ Fox News)

    “I was able to connect with some really awesome individuals who are all working toward something similar. You gratify so many other veterans who have skills and abilities and knowledge you didn’t even know existed, then come to find out you need to know it! ” Muranyi, 27, told Fox News.

    The Marine Corps veteran, who’s known as the “quiet one” of the vets who have taken the courses, has been studying mycology( fungi ). He likened the Veteran to Farmers experience to how some civilians may think about the military.

    “When you are in the military forces , no one back home thinks,’ Oh, I get to go to the movies, better thank a veteran.’ We do our job in silent professionalism and take comfort knowing it makes a difference, ” Muranyi, who deployed to Cuba and Japan during his service, explained.

    “It’s kind of the same thing as a farmer: How often do you go to the grocery store and look at what farm made your meat? But everyone is grateful to have something to eat. Instead of protecting life, we offer life-sustaining food, ” he said.

    The Veteran to Farmers’ hydroponics course has been taught for the last three years at Rebel Farm’s sprawling greenhouse in southwest Denver, which is owned by Lauren Brettschneider and Jack Olson. During such courses, which takes place four times a year and runnings for eight weeks, veterans learn the ins and outs of controlled agriculture.

    “Farming can be very soothing. You are developing something, generating, ” told Brettschneider, who worked in the hospitality and telecommunications industries before turning her ardour for farming into a business. “The class really inspires and motivates[ the veterans ]. ”

    “How often do you go to the grocery store and look at what farm rendered your meat? But everyone is grateful to have something to eat. Instead of defending life, we provide life-sustaining food.”

    – Dominik Muranyi, a Veterans to Farmers graduate

    The seedlings are housed in tiny sponge-like cubes to save their structural integrity–but they live inside nutrient film technique( NTF) channels, which are long, white plastic tubings that sort of look like gutters on a mansion. There’s a little dripping with a small hose that uncovers the roots to oxygen and they’re able to absorb nutrients from the water. The entire system uses very little water and, because it’s indoors, the flowers aren’t subjected to the elements and are less likely to have major pest infestations.

    According to Murphy, the greenhouse is much easier on the environmental issues in terms of sea utilization, a real fear during Denver’s dry, hot summers. It takes approximately 10 gallons of water to create a head of lettuce outdoors, but within the greenhouse it takes only one gallon.

    Veterans who take such courses at Denver Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield Farms work in a 7.5 -acre, picture-perfect space with the Rocky Mountains as their backdrop and the bright, powerful Western sunlight as their salve while they learn everything about the day-to-day running of an organic farm–planting, harvesting, crop rotations as well as licensing, recordkeeping, marketing and selling. This class operates for 10 weeks and there are only two per year due to Denver’s 22 -week outdoor growing season.

    On a sun-kissed, windy day in late April, two landscaped areas that were built by veterans from the program–complete with a paved segments, winding paths, bud beds and a bench–were easy to find. In the growing area, several elevated couches were prepped and embraced for strawberries, which are a tough crop to grow anywhere because many different animals and pests adoration them. A cherry-red Norman Rockwell-looking barn on the property has hosted Veterans to Farmers events.

    Jamie Wickler, farm education coordinator at Denver Botanic Gardens, is starting his fourth season teaching the veterans’ course at Chatfield. He said the biggest benefit for participants is a sense of community.

    “This is a group that deeply were concerned about sustainable food production, ” Wickler told. “Farming is hard work that they love, so to find other veterans and farmers that share that dedicates them a lot of encouragement and support.”

    Military veterans, accustomed to the rigours of discipline, hard work and getting their hands unclean, are well-suited to agriculture careers.

    “They can reconnect to their community in a capability where it feels like they’re contributing, and that’s huge, ” said Murphy. “When you commit someone food and get to watch their eyes light up and you grew that. It’s a similar feeling to,’ you honored our country, thank you for your service.’

    Rich Murphy, at left, with a variety of past and present participants in the Veterans to Farmers program at his house in Fort Collins, Colorado. ( Christopher Carbone/ Fox News)

    Muranyi lately started working at Hazel Dell Mushrooms Farm in Fort Collins. He helps out at the farmer’s marketplace and invests three days per week help with growing and harvesting shitake, lion’s mane and other mushrooms.

    “I love the work and it’s committed me an opportunity to learn more about fungus, ” he said.

    O’Brien, who was the first military columnist on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, said she wants to further her own agricultural education, find work in the sector and perhaps homestead on her own farm one day.

    “Programs like VTF render amazing a chance for veterans to do what they are best at: generating, problem-solving, project management and contributing people in a direction that is holistically best for everyone involved, ” she said.

    The vets in the program take a survey about topics including mental health issues at the program’s beginning and end to measurement its success, but Murphy said the most powerful feedback he gets is when vets pull him aside at the end to explain why it mattered so much to them.

    “If you don’t ever become a farmer, that’s okay. But if you find three or four really good veteran friends and you hang out and talk about flowers and perhaps develop some tomatoes–that’s f–king awesome. That’s a win, ” said Murphy.

    Christopher Carbone is a reporter embracing global affairs, engineering and national news for He can be reached at christopher.carbone @foxnews. com or on Twitter @christocarbone.

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