Fort Campbell, KY – A partnership between the Fort Campbell Soldier Recovery Unit and Tennessee state and federal agencies aims to aid wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers’ recovery by teaching them how to farm.
“The SRU takes a holistic approach to recovery. It’s not only that our Soldiers are here for a physical or medical reason, but it’s also about mind, body, and soul,” said SRU Commander Lt. Col. Joseph Reagan, referring to the six domains — career, physical, social, family, emotional, resolve – that encompasses each Soldier’s comprehensive recovery plan at the unit. “We rely on both clinical and non-clinical methods of care.”
One of those methods is Occupational Therapy. SRU Occupational Therapist, Wade Binion, said that gardening is one of several OT life skills programs offered through the unit to improve the health and quality of life of Soldiers at the SRU.
“Some of it is awareness,” said Binion, “The Soldier may think they can’t do anything because of their medical condition, but then they’re out in the garden. They’re walking through the soil. They’re digging and they’re doing some physical things that they didn’t think they’d be able to do again.”
SRUs are part of the Army Recovery Care Program, an Army program of medical care, rehabilitation, professional development, and achievement of personal goals for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers requiring complex medical care.
Binion develops a plan of care for Soldiers referred to OT based on their specific and individual needs, either one-on-one or in groups. He said that gardening helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language, and socialization.
“It is therapeutic to get your hands in the dirt and learn. Getting those fresh vegetables and fruits just kind of changes how you look at things,” said Karla Gargus, an extension agent with Tennessee State University, specializing in horticulture and small farms in Montgomery County, Tennessee.
She manages grant funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation Service that includes providing classroom and garden instruction to Soldiers at the SRU.
During the inaugural session, local farmer and Army Veteran Charlie Jordan discussed microgreens. He provided equipment and materials, and helped the Soldiers plant their own individual crops.
“We’re hoping to start our plants from seed. We’ll start out with our cool-season plants and get them planted in the garden. Then our warm-season plants when it’s time to get them in the garden,” Gargus said. “And through that whole period, we are teaching Soldiers what they can grow at specific times of the year and whether they want to grow it in a container, or grow it in the ground, or a raised bed.”
SRU participants dug in and were fully engaged in the first session.
“I thought it was going to be a lecture about microgreens, the properties, how to grow it, but I like that it was hands-on. I liked being able to put my hands in the potting soil and move it around. If it were just me on my own, it’s not anything I would venture out to do myself, but having an instructor here to guide us, I think it is something I’m more apt to do,” said Spc. Yesenia Flores, an SRU Soldier participating in the OT program.
Flores said that she has chickens back at her family home and would be interested in learning more about Veteran opportunities in agriculture.
“This is kind of where the extension office comes in,” said Gargus. “We work with people who want to farm, and we want to teach them to farm. One of our main goals is to catch Veterans, or Soldiers who are transitioning out [of the Army] and get them into the field of agriculture.”
Binion incorporates gardening and other programs like music therapy and art to help Soldiers improve health and quality of life, whether they return to their military roles and responsibilities or transition to civilian life.
He said that it also provides more opportunities for SRU Soldiers transitioning out of the military.
“Maybe give them some life choices. After getting out of the Army, life isn’t over. There are other things and that is where our life skills programs come in,” said Binion, pointing out the gardening instructor Charlie Jordan as an example. “He went from being a Veteran to now owning his own business growing flowers.”
The new gardening program meets twice a month, beginning with indoor classes, like planting microgreens. After winter the program will transition outside to the unit’s garden.
To learn more about the Army Recovery Care Program visit https://www.arcp.army.mil/