SWEETS CORNER — A couple’s quest for something to do after leaving the Canadian Forces has led to the creation of a farm project to help other veterans.
In April 2018, Jessica Miller and Steve Murgatroyd were looking for the next step.
Miller served in Afghanistan and on board ships in the navy as a medic, and had to leave because of the effects of a broken back and hip in separate accidents. Murgatroyd did a tour of Bosnia and two in Afghanistan with the infantry, but lost part of a leg in a motorcycle crash here at home when another vehicle cut him off.
“We were looking for something to do post-release, and then we stumbled across this property,” Miller said. “We could see the potential even though it had been an abandoned farm for years, and we purchased it.”
They named it Sweet Squish Farms, after its location in Sweets Corner, Hants County, and the sound the sodden ground made as they walked it last April.
Originally it was going to be a hobby farm for the couple. But Miller was letting a friend with a Reiki practice use space at the house, and the friend’s husband is a veterans’ advocate.
“They knew a bunch of families that needed some help, so I said ‘no problem’ and put a bunch of produce together, and she would take it to them,” Miller said.
As the summer went on, she thought about it, and healing through horticulture for veterans — specifically female veterans — made sense.
When Miller retired, she realized how few programs are available just for female veterans who have been medically released, and how many want a space they can go to to be active and feel safe.
She spent the winter putting a proposal together for how the farm would operate and how veterans could benefit from the food. She made a presentation to the Royal Canadian Legion, which agreed to sponsor the program, “and it snowballed from there.”
The Veteran Farm Project was born.
The farm, Miller said, “is a space for women to heal and be nurtured and engaged and do something positive.”
About a dozen women currently come to help out on the farm through the week, socialize and relax. Some days they take part in activities like yoga, baking, archery and other workshops. Every Wednesday, they pick vegetables, which are then packaged, taken to a legion and distributed to 10 families of veterans.
Among the volunteers are Amanda Wright and Angela Chiasson. Wright started volunteering a month ago with other veteran, and said they found “it was really beneficial for all of us to get around and talk to each other.
"We tend to isolate as ex-military people, so this forced us to be together and carry on conversations with living humans.”
Chiasson said the project makes her feel like she’s giving back to the community.
“Being here has improved my social and my mental health.”
Depending on what vegetables have been picked, recipes can go in the packages. Last week, the ingredients could make pasta primavera, and this week is hodge podge.
“We (also) put in different vegetables, interesting vegetables that you may not go to the store and buy on your own necessarily.”
Miller looks after the horticulture side of the farm and the programming, while Murgatroyd looks after the facilities.
“It’s a work in progress. As we go, we discover we need this or that, or a drying table. That’s my department, I’m going to build it,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have a green thumb.
He also looks after the archery workshops. He took up the sport after his crash in 2015. He competed in the Invictus Games and Warrior Games, and is the national coach for Soldier On, a program that provides resources and opportunities for ill and injured Armed Forces personnel to enjoy sports and recreation.
The couple have had interest in the project from other veterans and veterans' groups outside the province.
Next year, Miller hopes to double the number of families getting support. They have also had a lot of requests from serving military members to purchase food boxes, and said they plan to offer those next year as a way of raising funds and trying to become self-sufficient.