Milwaukee veterans find trauma resolution through urban agriculture
As a nine-year U.S. Army veteran with one tour in Kosovo and two combat tours in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Brian Sales had trouble readjusting to civilian life when he got out of the Army.
After his discharge from military service, Sales went to college and began exploring urban agriculture and its therapeutic qualities. He attending school in Florida when Milwaukee Growing Power founder and CEO Will Allen recruited him.
After arriving in Wisconsin, he founded Green Veterans to help veterans find healing and a way to reconnect with their communities while teaching them about sustainability and entrepreneurship. Green Vets initiatives include food production, waste remediation, wastewater treatment, water conservation, renewable energy and affordable housing.
“The military is very good at turning citizens into soldiers, but not very good at turning soldiers into citizens,” said Sales. “I learned firsthand that urban farming and sustainability as a whole gave me a purpose again after the military.”
Brian speaks from personal experience, he is rated 80% disabled from service-related PTSD. Sales was instrumental in the passage of the Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill. In his address to the Wisconsin Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee, Sales said:
“As far back as WWI, connecting soldiers with nature and farming has been used to treat the invisible wounds of war. Back then it was called shell shock. Today it’s called PTSD. No matter what it’s called, its effects are the same and what was true then is true now. Veterans need help.”
Now part of Groundwork Milwaukee, Green Vets has been developing several programs like Green Vets Trauma Resolution Center, which provides space for urban agriculture training and workshops.
“Touching soil is an antidepressant,” added Sales. “It makes you feel good and puts a smile on your face. You’re seeing something change from a seed, which is amazing. Coming from the military we were so used to the destructive model and with urban farming you switch from destruction to creation.”