Documentary offers veterans agri-therapy

David Broyles

June 29, 2014

The film “Terra Firma” shown in the Surry Art’s Council’s building on Friday offered hope for veterans struggling to “suck it up and drive on” as they re-enter civilian life in the opportunity of farming as agri-therapy.

The documentary is a look at three women who joined the service in the mid 90s in order to improve their lives, ended up as support soldiers in a battle zone, and returned home unable to function normally in society due to post traumatic stress disorder. Each eventually found healing through farming and they want their brothers and sisters in arms to know this can work for them as well.

Film makers Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson were on hand to answer questions on the work which is one of their growing body of “solutions style” films centered on agriculture. The screening was also a chance for local farmer Anna Mann of Chestnut Ridge Farm to raise money to showcase a veterans-to-farmers program at Slow Food International’s “Terra Madre” October gathering in Turin, Italy.

This year’s edition of the Terra Madre world meeting of food communities is set for Oct. 23-27. Its goal is to display the diversity of food from around the world and unite small-scale farmers and artisans. The two other women vets accompanying Mann are Althea Raiford of Georgia and Sonia Kendrick of Iowa.

“Your support means the world to us,” said Mann as she welcomed them to the screening and joked about getting the opportunity to travel to Italy and show Italians how to make biscuits. Some of the scenes featured Mann sharing her belief “a rooster crowing is what makes a farm.”

The three talked in the film about how many of the skills of a soldier, such as an intense situational awareness, are exactly what is needed by a successful farmer. Some of the poignant moments in the work included informal, relaxed conversations with the vets that showed the horror of war changes perspective and leaves soldiers with an uncomfortable, irrefutable knowledge nothing is perfect but life finds a way.

Afterwards, Mann shared her hope to take the possibilities of good for young, strong veterans who are returning and are not afraid of getting dirty as they discover farming gives them a way to serve again with purpose. The trio appeared to agree one irony is in a country which was once mostly self-sufficient, 75 percent of the food is imported.

Their experiences on the battlefield bring home the price paid as a result of dependence, where in the words of Kendrick, “whoever controls the food controls you.” The veterans also frankly shared how no movie or television show can ever portray what military personnel go through as well as discussing how organic, sustainable farming is simply another way for vets to protect the land again.

In the documentary, Mann shared the observation farming gave her the space to not judge herself while her counterparts appeared to draw comfort from the fact they can’t fight wars again but they can fight hunger.

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.