In the heart of leafy East Sussex, there is a charity using the land to treat the mental health issues of veterans from the tri-services. Its name is Veterans’ Growth. Their mission is “to provide horticultural therapy to veterans facing mental health issues”, especially for those who cannot access any other avenues of mental healthcare. Following delivery of his new Farm Tech Supplies equipment, we caught up with Jason Stevens CEO for more information.
The First Buds of Growth
Jason Stevens, CEO and founder of Veterans Growth, came up with the concept of his charity through his own experiences. As a veteran of 16 years, with diagnosed PTSD, he decided to try and fill the gaps he saw in the system.
During a spell in rehabilitation at Headley Court military hospital he found that only gardening seemed to improve his mental wellbeing. He opened a plant shop to make a living, but also found a therapeutic effect from working in a quiet and green environment.
Jason sold his business and set up a growing site at Rocks Farm Oast in Westfield, East Sussex, so he could share the therapy that had benefitted him with other veterans who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
What’s Up With Gardening?
Veterans’ Growth offers Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) as a pathway to mental wellbeing. This is a process which uses gardening to improve all-round wellbeing, as well as teaching transferable skills and improving communication. Nicky Shaw, occupational therapist and STH practitioner, is in charge of not only the therapeutic side of Veterans’ Growth but also the Seed Share Project. Through this, veterans can request free seeds from the charity to garden at home or wherever they can. These seeds are collected from the previous year’s crops and flowers, so the benefits of gardening can spread out far beyond the site itself.
At Rocks Farm Oast, veterans can benefit from being physically active in a calm and green environment, surrounded by others who can sympathise with their experiences. Interacting with each other, the charity and the local community, they can combat the isolation their situation can bring, as well as building social connections. Growing plants and food is a useful education about nutrition, and can lead to the discovery of a new hobby, or in some cases a new career.
Although Veterans’ Growth is a tranquil respite for veterans, it is far from dull. According to Jason “the fact everything is so varied makes it special”, with tasks “from mowing to propagation from pond work to designing a trade stand for RHS Chelsea 2022”.
To The Future…
Jason and his team have no intention of resting on their laurels. In 2 years, Jason mentions that they have turned a “barren grazing site to a fully productive market garden with polytunnels, wildlife areas, raised and ground level beds”. They can also offer accommodation for a family or individual at the charity.
Their short-term aims are to create a new pond, as well as building a trade stand for one of their supporters at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022. In the longer run, now that the pandemic is less limiting, Veterans’ Growth plans to fundraise to take on a new staff member, and to renovate two houses. These houses would provide accommodation for up to 10 veterans, once they are made accessible.
We hope the new Winton compact flail mower being fitted to their compact tractor will also help tackle maintenance around the market garden and allow for the charity to keep growing from strength to strength. Good luck to Jason & Co!
If you would like to know more about Veterans’ Growth, donate to this fantastic charity, or even know someone who could benefit from their work, please visit their website at https://veteransgrowth.org/.