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Air Force veteran inspires an army of volunteers at a farm that feeds multiple needs

Four years ago, John Mahshie started a project that could eventually be a model across the country. "I just had this vision of opening a space," he said of Veterans Healing Farm. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Our Person of the Week helps fellow veterans tap into a fertile ground for healing. Four years ago, John Mahshie started a project that could eventually be a model across the country.

"I just had this vision of opening a space," he said of Veterans Healing Farm.

When you think of farming, it's natural to focus on the food, but this site feeds a need for something more.

"What this represents to me is more the community component of our farm," Mahshie explained. "This is the tool that brings people together."

He's essentially built a support system from the ground up. The Air Force veteran and an army of volunteers grow a bounty of fresh produce that's given away at the Charles George VA Medical Center.

"This is purely the fact that they served our country and we want to demonstrate to them love and respect," Mahshie said.

With the help of veterans like Dwayne Davis, the group donated some 87,000 pounds of fruits and veggies last year, and the therapeutic value's a revelation for those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"To give back to veterans suffering with PTSD is very healing. It's healing to me and healing to other veterans," Davis said.

He invites volunteers, civilians and veterans, to come together for the mission.

"Once you get around him and hear his conviction, his passion, his authenticity for what this is all about," said Paul Schiro, who's among the civilian helping hands.

The Veterans Healing Farm has set up bed space to bring veterans in from around the country to learn horticulture skills. By doing so, Mahshie hopes similar efforts sprout nationwide.

"I think it tells a lot about the people I've been surrounded by, honestly," Mahshie said. "There's no way this would have happened."

What happened cultivated peace far removed from a battlefield. Farming is the framework that helps overcome painful memories, and not all of them are tied to the military. In 2001, Mahshie's dad died in a motorcycle accident just weeks after 9/11.

"It's a very sensitive subject, I apologize," he said. "For me, this is an opportunity to honor my father's legacy."

Mahshie never expected to earn his stripes as a farmer. In the process, he's helped fellow vets embrace a meaningful purpose.

"There's no question this is saving people's lives. I would go so far to say this has saved my life," Mahshie said. "Being in an environment where people actually care is so important."

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