Plant, Grow, Heal
A Hendersonville farm helps veterans heal through agricultureBy Vanessa Infanzon
Flat Rock resident and retired veteran Diane Colvin started volunteering with Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville a year ago. During that time, she’s spent a few hours a week on the farm with bee hives, medicinal herbs and tomato plants.
Diane supported every branch of the military through various roles for 24 years. She’s enjoyed the comraderie at Veterans Healing Farm; it reminds her of days in the military, working as a team accomplishing something together.
“We all have something in common, even if we’re not talking” she says. “It’s an understood respect for each other.”
Veterans Healing Farm was founded in 2013 by John and Nicole Mashie to “enhance the mental, emotional and physical well-being of our nation’s veterans and their families.” Two full-time employees, Executive Director Alan Yeck and Director of Operations Megan Landreth coordinate the events and programs offered on the farm. The programming is free, and the funding is 100% dependent on donations. Veterans, family members, caregivers and volunteers make up the community at Veterans Healing Farm.
The nonprofit achieves its mission through three distinct areas: agritherapy, or physical and emotional therapy through agricultural work; events; and workshops.
In fulfilling its focus on agritherapy, the farm grows about 5,000–6,000 pounds of produce a year on five of its nine acres. Everything from asparagus, cucumbers, okra, peppers, squash and more are donated to local organizations such as the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, the Hendersonville Rescue Mission, IAM Food Pantry, Safelight Women’s Shelter, The Storehouse, and Veterans Restoration Quarters. Providing food for these pantries is a bonus and not the intended outcome.
We’re not a production farm. The process is where the healing comes, working together in the soil.”
“We’re not a production farm,” Alan explains. “The process is where the healing comes, working together in the soil.”
The Bee Squad cares for nine beehives on the farm. The Medicinal Herb Squad grows 68 different medicinal plants with the help of 65 volunteers. The newly created Tomato Squad grew 115 different varieties of tomatoes in the greenhouse in 2023. No previous knowledge of bee keeping or farming is necessary, Alan says. Seasoned volunteers provide direction and mentorship to any veteran interested.
An Annual Veterans Resource Fair is held on the Saturday during Memorial Day Weekend. The outdoor event has attracted more than 700 people for live music and 35 booths such as Brothers and Sisters Like These and PGA Hope. The event connects veterans to free resources that help with legal matters, send veterans on fishing retreats, or start them on a writing journey and other organizations that provide services to veterans.
Throughout the year, Veterans Healing Farm brings special events. In November 2023, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall and 9/11 Memorial spent four days on the farm. Several ceremonies and presentations surrounded the event, including an art display with work from more than 20 Vietnam veterans.
Many of the workshops on the farm concentrate on anxiety, sleep disorder and inflammation — three predominant issues within the veteran community — although professional instructors, some veterans and some not, teach classes on a variety of topics. Canine, equine, music and neurofeedback therapy are available, as well as therapeutic workshops such as art, canning, jam-making and mushroom growing which are offered for free.
“Everybody leaves having created something to take with them and the knowledge of how to do it,” Alan says.
Two years ago, Veterans Healing Farm started planning two-hour and one day suicide prevention workshops and opened them up to the public.
“While veterans are disproportionately affected, it’s a crisis in the nation,” Alan says. “We open it up to anyone in the community.”
The veteran community is invited to partake in the farm’s offerings, on their terms. Visitors enjoy the peacefulness of the creek while others participate immediately.
“We just want people to come,” Alan says. “Some people can jump right it in, and some people, we recognize, are weary, leery and tired. They just want to check it out at first because of what they’ve been through. But if I can get them there once, the likelihood of them returning is tremendous.”
Homegrown by Heroes
In addition to work being done at Veterans Healing Farm, which is focused on agritherapy, veteran-owned farms across the state are certifying their products through the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Homegrown by Heroes program. The branding designation is open to all veterans and current service members who fit certain qualifications. Haze Gray Vineyards (hazegrayvineyards.com), a nine-acre vineyard in Surry County, is one of 138 agricultural businesses in North Carolina enrolled in the program. Deane Muhlenberg, Haze Gray’s co-owner and winemaker, served in the Navy for 30 years as an aviator. Since 2019, he’s been part of Homegrown by Heroes. Deane recognizes how the branding program raises awareness in the community as well as attracts other veterans to the farm. Currently, a 30-year Army veteran is apprenticing at Haze Gray, with the intent to open his own vineyard in the coming years. “Homegrown By Heroes helps other veterans think about a path into agriculture,” Deane says. “It opens up conversations with people about what it’s like to be a veteran farmer.”
Find a Homegrown by Heroes participating farm near you