Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jacksonville's Veterans Farm Receiving White House Honor

The following article is being reprinted from the February 8, 2013 edition of the Florida-Times Union's Jacksonville.com. The article was written by Beth Reese Cravey.  



"Former Army Sgt. Adam Burke already has a Purple Heart. Next week, he will receive the nation’s second-highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama. 

But he is not one to bask in his own glory. 

Burke, 35, prefers to view the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal as recognition of the war-weary veterans who are healing and learning how to make a living at the Veterans Farm he founded on Jacksonville’s Westside. 

And he hopes to divert the attention to them, the nonprofit and other similar veterans programs. 

“It is certainly quite a blessing for us,” Burke said Friday. “I am very honored ... but it takes a team for this to be successful.” 

Obama will present medals to Burke and 17 other recipients at the White House Friday. The selections were made from nearly 6,000 public nominations. 

“Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country,” Obama said in a news release. 

Veterans Farm helps disabled combat veterans reintegrate into society through the use of horticulture therapy, teaching them how to farm, start their own farm or work for large farming organizations in Florida. 

The operation opened in 2009 in Burke’s hometown of Webster but moved to Jacksonville in 2010. Veterans work at three separate locations, with 10 to 15 of them at each site at any given time. Plans are under way to expand to Connecticut. 

The farm started out with blueberries and blackberries, but has since added all sorts of other fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and Longhorn cattle. 

“If you can grow it, we do,” Burke said. 

He was raised on a blueberry farm but left those serene surroundings for the Army. During a 15-month stint in Iraq he was injured in a mortar attack. After returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he realized the farm atmosphere was the best place for him and other veterans to recover. 

Shaun Valdivia, a former Marine corporal who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, has been working at Veterans Farm for almost two years. 

“It takes a different approach to the mind set of a veteran who needs to get out, taking it literally. Instead of keeping everything in your head and dwelling on it, you begin to take it all outside in the open air,” he said.

Valdivia said that when he first got out of the military in 2009, he was withdrawn, antisocial and anxious. So when he later came to Veterans Farm, Burke assigned him public relations duties. He helps veterans work on their weaknesses, Valdivia said, and “harness their strengths to make them even better.” 

Valdivia said he has since become more outgoing and more akin to his former self and learned how to do just about everything on a farm. 

Janet Streit, food relations coordinator at the Second Harvest North Florida food bank, met Burke in 2012 as she met with area farmers to request surplus food. 

“I was so impressed,” she said. “He helps these veterans make money, build their self-esteem.”

Burke also instills community service values in the veterans. He sent a contingent of them to pick surplus organic fruit at another farm, whose owner had offered the food to Second Harvest if they could get it harvested, she said. “It is a quality program,” she said. 

“I can’t say enough about him. Genuinely good people.” 

Burke also has received other accolades, including the 2011 Good Person of the Year award from the Good People Foundation and the Star of Honor from Work Vessels for Veterans."

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109

VETERANS FARM

Veterans Farm is located at 7749 Normandy Blvd., No. 145, Jacksonville, FL 32221. To donate, volunteer or get more information, call (904) 571-2779, email info@veteransfarm.com or go to veteransfarm.org.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2013-02-08/story/combat-veteran-who-helps-fellow-vets-jacksonville-farm-get-white-house#ixzz2KMA5pMj2