Through program, farming can be therapeutic for veterans

  • Tara Waller checks on the crops growing at Hoola Farms' demonstration farm outside of Hilo. .

Emily Emmons founded Ho‘ola Farms after her husband, a military veteran with traumatic brain injury and PTSD, returned home full time from active duty.

She said her family had to make adjustments physically and mentally to help him with the transition.

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“It was difficult for a while until my husband started to grow things in the garden, and it was so therapeutic for him,” Emmons said. “The whole family joined him, and it was beneficial for all of us.”

After seeing the positive changes, Emmons wanted to share her experience with other veterans experiencing the same things.

“There were so many positive changes happening in our lives that I thought to share this with a community of people going through the same things,” she said. “I know this has done wonders for my family, and I see it help so many that go through our program.”

Through Ho‘ola Farms, veterans have an opportunity to apply for scholarships for the GoFarm Hawaii program at all the beginning farming locations.

“Going through the program and learning how to grow something from your own hands can be very affirming for veterans,” Emmons said. “You can see the excitement in people’s eyes when they start to figure it out, and I’m blown away by what they can learn in a couple months.”

Ho‘ola Farms program manager and veteran Tara Waller joined the GoFarm Hawaii cohort last year to experience everything the program entails. She uses her experience to share the benefits with other veterans she knows and works with.

“It was fun, but I don’t want to make it sound super rosy, because it was really hard,” Waller said. “It can be overwhelming how much you learn, but it was very valuable to me and for anyone that wants to go through it.”

Waller is utilizing her new skills by overseeing Ho‘ola Farms’ new demonstration farm, which is located on the same acreage as GoFarm Hawaii.

Veterans and their families are invited to come to the demonstration farm to get their feet wet, ask questions, and see if either program is right for them.

While she has enjoyed honing her own skills as a commercial farmer, Waller was happy to see her peers learn alongside her through the GoFarm process last year.

“The inspiration and pride I saw was really restorative,” Waller said. “I saw so many moments of eyes being opened, and watched people react to seeing what they planted become a beautiful field of food.”

During her time in the cohort, Waller saw how beneficial growing things could be for everyone, but especially veterans living with PTSD or trauma-related anxiety.

Participants were able to use their hands and enjoy being outdoors while losing weight, gaining muscle and learning a new skill that they can take anywhere.

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“It’s life-affirming, because you are growing things,” Waller said. “The whole process of watching something you’ve been raising from a seed creates a positive energy that stays with you.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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