War, Peace, Farming, and Art

Returning to civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a growing group of veterans find refuge through art and farming. Republished from Fresh Dirt Ithaca.

Nathan Lewis in the greenhouse.
Photos by Lauren DeCicca.

In a humid greenhouse on the backroads of Trumansburg, Nathan Lewis, a 28-year old veteran of the Iraq war, weaves through a maze of of tables, hoses, and water tanks, pointing out the various plants he and other members of the Veterans’ Sanctuary are cultivating this year—chives, licorice, a hardy citrus tree, a hardy kiwi, a curling willow.

It’s an odd selection for upstate New York, but the veterans, who get most of their plants by donation, fill pools of water in the greenhouse to keep the air humid for the nonnative species. Despite their efforts, they can’t seem to solve their mouse problem, which raises the question: How does a peaceful, antiwar group like this one deal with pests?

“My friend John said to ask them nicely to leave,” Lewis says. “After a while, I’m inclined to stomp on them.”

The Veterans’ Sanctuary, which was set up to help soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan acclimate to civilian life, is a recent addition to the list of project partners at Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action. Located in an Italianate house on a hill overlooking the village of Trumansburg, the sanctuary endeavors to create a new model for healing from war trauma—one that involves peer support, reconnection with nature through farming, and a connection to self-expression through art. Continue reading

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