The moment Peter Scott shared a box of vegetables from his backyard garden with his local veterans hospital was the first time he truly felt a sense of purpose since leaving the military.
Scott, a 12-year Army veteran, had served in Kosovo, Qatar and Pakistan before his final deployment to Afghanistan, as a counterintelligence agent. His job was to interact with the locals in rural villages and identify foreign intelligence and terrorist organizations working to harm U.S. troops. However, the Sgt. 1st Class felt that his usefulness there was dwindling.
“Over the 12 years I was in service, we did a lot of really complex things, and they never turned out the way you want them to,” he said. “Or they didn’t go the right way and people got hurt and I no longer believed in the fight. I no longer believed in the mission.”
Upon returning home in 2010, Scott was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Faced with the decision to seek treatment or lose his family, he went to an inpatient program for combat veterans with PTSD offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“And [during] that time in between, I realized that I was missing a lot of the shared experience and community that the veteran community brings to me,” Scott said.
Having worked on highly classified missions, he decided he was never going to do anything that he would be unable to tell a stranger about. So, he explored his interests in the culinary arts, brewing beer and taking up butchery before eventually finding his passion in gardening.
Planting seeds for others
Scott began gardening with two 30-foot beds. The next year he expanded to ten 30-foot beds, and before he knew it, he’d ended up with a 7-acre farm.
Understanding the veteran community’s need for fresh produce, he founded a nonprofit called Fields 4 Valor Farms in 2016. It provides weekly deliveries of fresh produce to low-income military families in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Most make less than $15,000 a year and receive an estimated $1,500 worth of vegetables over a year.
“You can buy a lot of macaroni and cheese for five bucks or a lot of potatoes, right? And you can fill up those bellies. But you’re not getting the same amount of nutrition,” said Scott.
The farm produces fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, honey and other seasonal items. In addition to food, the group also offers programs such as culinary classes and beekeeping training, along with employment and housing opportunities on the farm.
Feeding a need for other vets
When Scott founded the farm, he realized he needed a farm manager. That’s when he met Antoinette LaForce, an Army veteran who had served in Iraq and was facing eviction from her home.
“Transition back into the civilian world was just horrendous, and I didn't really have a path. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” said LaForce.
Scott agreed: “I think one of the biggest challenges veterans face is we’ve already had a career, and then we leave the service and all of a sudden we have to start back from scratch and skills don’t often translate or we don’t know how to translate them.”
The farm gives veterans an opportunity to learn and connect with others while helping other veterans. Meanwhile, those receiving the donated produce have the satisfaction of knowing it came from their own community, Scott added.
“I think we’ll know we can stop growing when there are no more hungry veterans.”
This is the fourth episode from AARP Studios’ new documentary series Reporting for Duty. Each month you can expect a new inspirational story about veterans and military families at YouTube.com/aarp.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.