Farms offer therapy for veterans battling stress, depression

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- When you step onto Mary Ann Yow’s farm, it’s hard to imagine how you could do anything but smile.

It’s a bucolic haven in the southwest part of Guilford County, rolling land with animals that allow for a peaceful morning or afternoon. So, when Yow says, “I suffered with depression myself for some time,” it catches you a bit by surprise.

But when she learned that nearly two dozen veterans were taking their own lives each day in America, she knew she had to do something and had the idea of opening her farm to them.

“It was God speaking to me saying, 'You need to do something more with your horses more than have them as pets,’” Yow said. “This is, basically, a private park for the veterans and their families to come out whenever they need to.”

And it’s a movement that is gaining traction nationwide. Chris Dorsey joined the Army just before 9/11. He didn’t think deployments to Iraq were in his future but when the call came, he answered without reservation.

When he got out and realized he had some real issues, he also discovered the value of time spent on the farm.

Yow calls her farm Easter’s Promise, after her horse that she credits with her survival of depression. And, recently, she had the idea to open her farm to first responders, as well.

“There are a lot of different ways agriculture is therapeutic,” Dorsey said. “One of the biggest things is, it creates self-worth. We, as veterans, left a job that had ultimate purpose and ultimate trust and we get thrown out into the civilian world where that rarely exists. So, you're constantly searching for that trust and that self-worth.”

Dorsey does that with his organization called Warrior Farms, based in Georgia. He came to Ozark Akers, a farm owned by Mike Hansen and his wife, Sue Meyer, to pick up a couple of head of cattle for use in his organization. He chose Pineywoods Cattle from Ozark Akerz for a variety of reasons but among them is that there are a heritage breed, something the Livestock Conservancy is trying to maintain.

“This is something bigger than just one cow or just one herd or one farm,” said Ryan Walker, of the conservancy. “After the drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan started, we started noticing a big increase in the number of veterans who were calling us to get involved with Heritage breeds. This conservation act is a mission and many of our veterans are mission driven. So, really, it's just a natural fit for the veterans to work with Heritage breeds.”

And, in the beautiful backdrop of a farm like Ozark Akerz or Easter’s Promise, it’s a powerful medicine. Just ask former Greensboro police officer, Lauren Crouse. “We push our emotions aside to help others and we have to have a way to wind down and this is a great place to do that,” she said.

See how it works in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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