"I wanted to create a community for fellow veterans who needed a sense of belonging," John Mahshie explains.
John Mahshie, a former senior airman, left the Air Force in 2008. After he left, he struggled with his own mental health. Now, he is helping other veterans through a plot of land in North Carolina that he transformed into a "healing farm", as per PEOPLE. Mahshie says he felt "alone and isolated," when he left the Air Force and added that he knew others like him might be feeling the same way. "I didn't have a way to process my dad's death. I just sucked it up and pressed on," Mahshie, 38, said. "I knew that other veterans felt like I did, in many ways. Maybe they didn't feel exactly how I felt for the same reasons, but they were struggling in their own way."
So, in 2013, Mahshie transformed a 9-acre plot of land in Hendersonville that was previously used by his family to raise pigs into lush farmland filled with organic fruit trees, berry bushes, medicinal herbs, and flowers. "I wanted to create a community for fellow veterans who needed a sense of belonging," he explains. "I had this vision of growing a 'healing farm' because it's just as important to feed the body as it is to feed the spirit." Mahshie got the idea for Veterans Healing Farm when he reflected on several mission trips he had taken to Mexico with a chaplain from the Air Force.
There, Mahshie and the chaplain would work together to help poor communities in the area. "I realized that when I was helping other people, I didn't feel as depressed," says Mahshie, who joined the Air Force straight out of high school in 2000. "If you can focus on others, it helps you take your mind off your own pain. I thought, if community work helped me before, it would help me now, and would help others," he adds. It took some time, but over the next few years, Mahshie developed his concept, part-by-part. He enrolled himself in entrepreneurial boot camps to seek advice from lawyers and mentors, before finally launching the farm in 2013.
"I learned pretty much everything about planting and growing by watching YouTube videos," says Mahshie. Now, along with his wife, Nicole, 34, Mahshie invites former service members to volunteer so that they can help keep the farm running. The vets get to stay in shipping containers converted into bunkhouses, and there, they get to "learn new skills but also find purpose in life," says Mahshie. He believes that the Healing Farm not only produces fresh produce, it also gives the veterans a chance to attain numerous therapeutic benefits, such as physical exercise and vitamin D from spending time in the sun. What's most important is the fact that the farm offers a natural environment where former members of the military who have been struggling with unemployment, depression, or homelessness, come together and "continue their military mission of service before self," says Mahshie. "You don't get that in civilian life," the founder explains. "In civilian life, relationships form and evolve at a different pace. Veterans feel the difference when they get out of the service. Here, veterans learn that they can trust other people and that they are valued," he goes on.
"The acts of growing and harvesting help them form friendships with people who share the same mission. It's so gratifying to see these relationships form." Mahshie adds the group has given away more than 35,000 lbs. of veteran-grown produce and flowers over the last six years, but it's not exactly about that. "What we do is give veterans a new community that they can be a part of with other veterans, caregivers and civilians," says Mahshie. "The need is so significant. We grow plants, but we are growing much more than that. We cultivate life through building community."