To ease food insecurity and support female veterans transitioning, Sgt. (Ret’d) Jessica Miller and her husband Sgt. (Ret’d) Steve Murgatroyd started the Veteran Farm Project.
Initiated in 2018, the Veteran Farm Project is a not-for-profit farm.
“It grew out of a need for a safe place for other women and me to come together in a tribe-like environment and find the space to heal from any traumas they may have or are experiencing,” said Miller, who served as a medic in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
In the first year, the couple grew a lot of vegetables they thought would be for just them and their friends. A friend asked them if extra vegetables could be given to a senior couple who were Veterans.
“Of course, I packed up as much as I could and sent it to them. They were so grateful, and it made me realize that there is a need in the veteran community for food support,” Miller explained.
Miller approached the Royal Canadian Legion Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command with her proposal. They immediately said yes to supporting the Veteran Farm Project, which has been helping ever since.
The farm they purchased was abandoned and neglected for many years, and it took almost all of 2018 to get the land prepped for an ample farming space. Each season they’ve grown and expanded and now have a large community of both serving, retired, and civilians helping with all areas on the farm.
Connecting with Nature
The inspiration for this project came from a lack of female veteran support groups or organizations.
“It can be very scary to be in a mixed-gender group when you’ve been traumatized by men while in service,” Miller expressed.
She described how being in nature and being surrounded by like-minded women can help ease some of the struggles they may be facing. In addition, having the ability to come together in a group and connect through nature has physical and mental health benefits that are important to healing and growing post-service.
“There have been many studies conducted about the connection with nature and the benefits that come from grounding yourself with the natural environment from studies dating back to the 1940s when soldiers returned from war,” Miller informed.
She added, “I studied environmental management in university and knew the benefits that nature provides. Therapeutic horticulture has been an area of study I have been very interested in for many years.”
She continued to explain, “As soldiers, we spend a lot of time in nature, and I wanted to give those who need it the ability to get their hands dirty and connect with the earth.”
The Veteran Farm Project also makes food donations to those in need. All the recipients are designated by a number. Their We Care Food Packages are then delivered to Legion Command and are delivered from there.
They also host free workshops for veterans and civilians to inform them on the life of a modern-day veteran, enjoy the farm, learn new hobbies and spend time together.
The Garden for Joy
When Sub-Lieutenant Cowbrough, one of the victims of a military helicopter crash off the coast of Greece, died in the helicopter crash, “We all felt overwhelmed with grief and sadness,” said Miller.
As a former medic, she knew the importance of flying.
“I flew with many patients off-ship, and it was scary at times. As a female-driven farm, we wanted to do something for the only female lost in the crash. We wanted to do something special to honour her memory and create a space for others to enjoy the beauty of flowers and the farm,” she added.
The Garden for Joy received National Military Memorial status in summer 2021.
For more information on the Veteran Farm Project Society, visit here.