Agro-Cognitive Therapy Heals Veterans at Comfort Farms
Many veterans return from war with problems that are very difficult to treat because they aren’t physical wounds. Jon Jackson, an Army Ranger who did six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over 11 years, found himself in a very dark place when he got out of the Army. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and a Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] had affected every aspect of his life and made the transition to civilian life almost impossible. In 2016 he came very close to ending his own life, but instead was inspired to start Comfort Farms to help troubled veterans like himself.
Comfort Farms is part of a larger organization, STAG Vets. It’s the only 100% veteran-run therapy program in the United States. The name is in honor of Jon Jackson’s friend Kyle Comfort, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. As Jon Jackson explains, “Comfort Farms is a program under a non-profit that STAG VETS created to help veterans who are homeless, displaced and transitioning.”
Comfort Farms reaches veterans through a unique approach, agro-cognitive therapy. Comfort Farms helps veterans heal from war by putting them to work growing and harvesting crops and caring for the many animals on the farm. Wrestling with typical farm problems is not unlike wrestling with combat, a world most veterans know well.
Comfort Farms is not an isolated place, however. It plays an important role in helping the community around it in Milledgeville, Georgia. Locals can buy its produce and meats at farmers markets, which have continued even during the pandemic by allowing drive-up pickup of online purchases. Jon Jackson also encourages students from the three local colleges to come out to the farm and do research and to sometimes help with the farm work. Jon has spoken about farming topics and the Comfort Farms mission to many groups as well as companies like Baker Creek Seeds.
The meats and crops at Comfort Farms are as unique as Jon Jackson. Fully 98% of what he grows are Heritage crops, not standard items. At Comfort Farms can be found North Georgia candy roaster pumpkins, pineapple guavas, white flint corn, giant okra from Africa (where Jon’s mother is from originally) and twenty different kinds of collard greens. The animals roaming the twenty acres include pigs, chickens, rabbits, and geese. Jon also grows vegetables and fish using an aquaponics system.
Recent years have seen many new developments at Comfort Farms. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Jon talked about the farm as well as the heritage turkeys he will prepare on Thanksgiving. Jon continues to seek out heritage plants and animals to raise. Comfort Farms has been featured on television shows, including a recent episode of “Man Fire Food” on the Food network.
Comfort Farms recently expanded from 25 to 30 acres, with sheep introduced to roam the area as part of a land regeneration project aimed at rebuilding the soil. (Sheep are easier to keep in an enclosure than goats.) Jon plans to remove the pines and grow hardwoods and fruit trees.
This Thanksgiving, Comfort Farms, in partnership with AARP, is hosting a virtual program that involves heritage Bourbon Reds turkeys and more. Jon Jackson: “We invite veterans and our global community to register for this event as we showcase Comfort Farms Acute Crisis Sustainable Agriculture Center for Veterans, prepare and cook a heritage turkey, conduct a question and answer live on our farm, [and have] a virtual tour.” They will also talk about the recent granting of monies to start a culinary school aimed at helping veterans, the Ag Tech to Success program.
Another exciting development is a documentary about Comfort Farms. Carlisle Kellam, an Atlanta-based photographer and filmmaker, made Comfort Farms, a feature length documentary, which won the Grand Jury Prize as Best Documentary Feature at the Film Invasion Los Angeles festival.
Comfort Farms offers healing and hope to struggling veterans. As Jon says in the film, “Put the gun down. Put the pills down. Grow your food and eat it!”