From Battlefields to Fields of Dreams: Vets Cultivate Healing on the Farm – Op Ed News

From Battlefields to Fields of Dreams: Vets Cultivate Healing on the Farm – Op Ed News

GROUND OPERATIONS: Battlefields to Farmfields is a new documentary about the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into sustainable farming, ranching and artisan food production as they create healthy new lives for themselves and contribute to food security for all Americans.

The film won the Audience Favorite award at DocUtah International Film Festival, the Social Justice Award at the Port Townsend Film Festival and Best Solution at the Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival.

Producer-Director, Dulanie Ellis was Associate Producer on the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks. Ground Operations is her fifth film about sustainable agriculture.

Co-Producer and Editor, Raymond Singer, is an award-winning screenwriter of Disney’s Mulan, HBO’s Iron-Jawed Angels and Dreamworks’Joseph, King of Dreams. 
I was lucky to have an opportunity to interview Dulanie.

Meryl Ann Butler: Dulanie, I love this whole solution-oriented, win-win concept that offers so much to our veterans, especially via what I consider to be the healing power of Mother Earth. What first inspired you to take on this subject?

Dulanie Ellis: I live in a beautiful agricultural county just outside of Los Angeles. As a filmmaker I have specialized in what it will take to continue to feed America in a more sustainable manner than the chemical approach we’ve used for the last 60 years or so. I’ve produced four short documentaries about the subject. So when I met folks at the Farmer Veteran Coalition and learned about their program to help transition military veterans into farming and ranching, I knew this was the answer to many of the challenges we face as a nation.

Veteran farmer Bridgit Ruiz and sons learn planting skills together by Dulanie Ellis

MAB:  Wow, meeting the FVC was an auspicious event! What was your most meaningful moment of the process?

DE: When the veterans or their families come up after seeing the film and thank us, often with tears in their eyes,  for telling it like it is and offering a positive alternative for meaningful work. These are mission-driven men and women and they want to continue to serve.

Veteran-Farmers, siblings Althea & Matthew Raiford by Dulanie Ellis

MAB: That is really touching, I’m glad to hear that. What do you hope your other viewers will take away from their film experience?

DE: You know, a lot of people were opposed to the wars and don’t know members of the military personally, so they may easily have misconceptions about veterans. I did. The veterans I’ve met who are in the film – and many more – are tremendously capable, focused and visionary can-do people. We are lucky that so many of them want to grow our food. I hope viewers recognize that farming, whether rural or urban, is not merely healing for the vets after their war experience — it’s healing for us, for our communities, as they provide access to healthy, organic food to neighborhoods that are often under-served and suffer from diet-related diseases. In a world full of problems, Ground Operations is a story about solutions.

Pennsylvania farm by Dulanie Ellis

MAB: Thanks, Dulanie, I totally understand that. I have not been in support of sending our military to war, especially to recent ones, and in the 1960’s I was an anti-war demonstrator. However, I am also vigorously in support of veterans’ rights. I felt conflicted about all of that for many years, but I’ve finally resolved it – I don’t want to send them to war, but if we do, then it’s only right to follow up with all the promises after they get back, and help them return to productive lives as citizens.  I don’t feel our government is following up appropriately with their promises to veterans, and that is unethical and makes me angry, and I feel helpless to change the government’s response. I take my elderly dad, a WW2 vet, to the VA Hospital frequently, and am always struck with the pervading sense of hopelessness there.  But your documentary shows me that I can put my faith for ethical resolutions for veterans in the private sector. Individual citizens can do what the government fails to do, and that’s really the spirit of this country, anyway. So it’s a hopeful and helpful movie, thanks for spreading the hope around! And thank you for sharing with us, Dulanie!

DE: Thank you, I’m always glad to share this story!

Farmer John Wilson by Dulanie Ellis

John Wilson, interviewed in the documentary, uses sustainable and organic methods at his 21-acre New Earth Farm and onsite learning center in Virginia Beach, VA. He runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where local residents pay at the start of the season for produce that they will receive over the course of the summer. This allows the farmer to cover early costs and makes it easier to estimate how much to plant. For the members, it means eating fresh, organic produce on a weekly basis, the opportunity to support a local farmer, relationships with a community of like-minded people and a personal connection to the food they eat and the people who grow it.

Yummy contents of New Earth Farm CSA boxes for Nov. 9. by Meryl Ann Butler

Wilson’s has offered tours of his farm to local school groups, and trains local educatiors in how to create and maintain school gardens. So far he’s mentored four veterans who now run their own farms. Former mentee Rick Cavey grows organically and has also started two farmer’s markets.

Mentees Coleman and Bridget Ruiz now farm organically in Maryland.  John and Coleman were featured “cover-farmers” on the April 2012 issue of Cultivate magazine.

Cultivate cover features John Wilson and Coleman Ruiz by Cultivate

Helping veterans to heal through farming promises other benefits for society, as well. In acase that smacks of the repercussions of PTSD, on Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa CA, a 13-year-old boy carrying a toy gun was shot from behind and killed by former combat veteran, Sonoma County sheriff deputy Eric Gelhaus. How many lives would be different now if Gelhaus had gotten involved in farming instead of law enforcement upon his return from war?

Solutions for returning veterans are sprouting up like weeds.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) notes that it “works with veterans in the food and farming community in 48 states, to provide farming education, and veteran assistance to those in need… We aspire to lead the national effort connecting veterans to agriculture. We believe that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all. We believe that food production offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits.”  

Attendees at the first Empowering Women Veterans Conference by Dulanie Ellis

The 2nd Annual Empowering Women Veterans Conference hosted by the FVC will be held in Louisville, Kentucky, November 14-17th.  Women who have served in the Armed Forces, are still serving, and women who are farming are invited to participate in the conference, for free.  The event includes a sneak preview of the documentary Terra Firma, about three female combat veterans who found ways to heal through farming. Julie Brown, National Veteran Outreach Coordinator for the FVC, and a veteran herself, notes that many will be attending on scholarships that assisted them in paying for transportation and housing.

The Empowering Women Veterans Conference is baby-friendly by Dulanie Ellis

The Veterans Farm in Florida helps “disabled combat veterans reintegrate back into society through the use of horticulture therapy, while working together in a relaxed, open environment. Veterans will work as a team to develop solutions that will enable them to overcome physical and mental barriers.”

CalVet offers farm loans to eligible California veterans to acquire a farm property that will provide a livelihood for the veteran and his/her family. For more info call 866-653-2510.The mission of Colorado’s Veterans to Farmers is “to provide American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution: The family farm. Veterans will be taught how to build environmentally controlled greenhouses of uniform size and design that utilize methods of high-tech, controlled environment crop culture.” Nebraska’s Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots“assists military personnel and their families to become farmers, ranchers and business entrepreneurs … matching up beginning farmers and ranchers with existing mentors. Working with the USDA Farm Service Agency and organizations, they have developed a program to assist with business plans to address 30-year property transfers, as one generation hands the land over to the next.”

Dulanie (left) and Meryl Ann (right) visit John Wilson 11.09.13 by Meryl Ann Butler

Pennsylvania’s Veteran Organic Farm Program is a one-year certificate program that includes “classroom subjects in organic farming and hands-on experience at the Rodale Farm during the summer. Vets who are eligible for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will have up to 100% of their tuition paid, in addition to funds for housing and bills. The curriculum includes business development skills and career placement assistance.”

Ground Operations poster by Dulanie Ellis

A screening of  GROUND OPERATIONS: Battlefields to Farmfields will be held in Washington DC on Tues. Nov. 12, at 6:30 pm, at the Capitol Visitor Center theater for Congressional members, staff and NGOs. The event will be hosted by Elizabeth Kucinich, Policy Director for the Center For Food Safety.  A Congressional briefing will follow on November 13 at the House Rayburn building.  Speakers at the screenings include Buck Adams, founder of Veterans to Farmers (Denver), D’Artagnan Scorza, founder of the Social Justice Learning Institute (Los Angeles) and Vu Ngyuen of Mission Continue’s 1st Platoon (Washington DC).

Trailer:  Website:
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I brought home some of those crisp green tomatoes from New Earth Farm. It had been over 30 years since I’d made fried green tomatoes, and I was excited.  They were tasty, but I’d only gotten a few fried up when I remembered why I hadn’t done it in 30 years — it’s time consuming and messy. And after years of cooking for 8 kids and a couple of husbands, I’ve  streamlined my kitchen experiences.

So after I’d eaten enough fried green tomatoes to scratch the itch, I googled green tomato recipes, got inspired by a few, and developed what I now consider to be the definitive recipe for green tomatoes. These were so simple and delicious, I will probably never cook them another way again! You can go read a book while this roasts in the oven all by itself, and you don’t have to be precise about any part of the recipe.

Oven Roasted Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes, washed, and halved (or quartered, depending on size) with any bad spots removed.
Coconut oil (if it’s not liquid at room temp, heat it a little ’til it is. I started with a couple of tablespoons in a little glass cup, adding more as needed. Other oils could be substituted, but when I found out how healthful coconut oil is, I got rid of my other oils… it’s yummy too.)
Salt, pepper, herbs/spices (such as Italian seasoning) as desired
Cookie pan with a rim

Preheat oven to about 275 – 300 degrees. Dip the tomatoes in the oil to cover, and place on the pan. (The pan needs to have a rim so the juicy stuff doesn’t drip. This is an easy recipe…you don’t want to ruin it by having to clean the oven!) Sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbs/spices to taste. Place in oven to roast and check on it in an hour or two.

The green tomatoes will have turned into bite-sized bursts of flavor. I had planned to save them to add to soups, but they were so delicious I ate them all!

Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing for over 25 years. She studied art with Harold Ransom Stevenson in (more…)

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