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Veteran Community Partnerships

Army Veteran says internship through a VA farming partnership gave him a new lease on life

Army Veteran Eric Poston said that he’s “like a seed that’s been planted to grow,” just like the lettuce and tomato seeds he plants at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park (AG Center). There, Mr. Poston participates in an internship offering training in horticulture and mental health recovery.

Mr. Poston said he’s experienced the same growth as his plants because becoming involved with gardening and farming helped him recover from substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

“There’s something therapeutic about getting in the dirt, pulling up weeds, planting things, and watching them grow,” Mr. Poston said.

Mr. Poston came to the AG Center internship after graduating from the Horticulture and Sustainable Agriculture Training Program. That program is a Veteran Community Partnership (VCP) collaboration between VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) and the TALMAR Horticultural Therapy Center, and other entities. The training program at TALMAR is in its second year and 57 Veterans have participated.

The TALMAR program was an important part of Mr. Poston’s recovery, he explained, because he learned to have a sense of structure.

“I had to get up early in the morning, and I hadn’t done that since the military,” he said with a laugh. Growing up in South Carolina, he explained, it “wasn’t cool to go out and pick tomatoes. I didn’t think about eating vegetables or taking care of myself.” Now he eats butter lettuce or mustard greens he grows himself, gets more than 15,000 steps daily, and is off the 12 medications he used to take.

At the AG Center farm, Mr. Poston bonds with other employees and volunteers. He also bonds with the goats, pigs, and horses there.

“I carry peppermints in my pocket to give to the horses,” he said. “Horses love peppermints!”

Mr. Poston works from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. three days per week and receives a stipend. In the future, he said he’d like to become a “master gardener” with the program. Then he’d have a plot of land he could rent from the county and could grow produce to sell at the local farmer’s market.

“I want to provide nutrition to some of the food deserts in the city where I came from,” Mr. Poston said.

The VCP Initiative at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is a joint project of VHA offices, including the National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP, formerly the Office of Community Engagement).

HAP psychologist and Health Systems Specialist Dr. Jamie D. Davis is the collaborations lead for the VCP initiative. She said that VCPs like the TALMAR program and collaborations like the AG Center internship program are invaluable for Veterans’ well-being.

“Programs like these offer Veterans exercise, food security, employment, social connection, and so much more,” Dr. Davis said. “These are all positive social determinants of health, which we know decrease Veterans’ risk of suicide. Collaborations like these that holistically address the mind, body, and spirit help VHA offer even more supportive resources to Veterans.”

For more on HAP, please visit va.gov/healthpartnerships.

For more on TALMAR, please visit talmar.org.

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

Posted April 12, 2021