Burgaw man uses farming as therapy for veterans


LELAND, NC (WWAY) — A Burgaw man has started a nonprofit that aims to support veterans by using farming as a form of therapy.

Bill O’Brien served in the Navy, Army Reserves and Army National Guard, and his tours have taken him to Pearl Harbor, Bosnia and Iraq.

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“Many of us carry baggage from experiences we have had while serving,” he said. “While our family members may try, the best people to help are other veterans.”

That’s why O’Brien started Veteran Owned, Veteran Grown, Inc. as a way to help veterans who may coping with Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD) or contemplating suicide.

“Being a former corpsman, it was pretty unacceptable to hear that happened,” said O’Brien. “I felt like I was failing at my mission.”

O’Brien says with the help of his wife, Heather, they started the nonprofit initially by simply providing a free meal at their family farm, located east of Burgaw, at Thanksgiving for families of deployed service members.

“That transformed into veterans getting involved with farming and giving them a new mission in life,” he said.

While medication can be helpful to treating mental illness, O’Brien says, ultimately, the goal of his organization is to help veterans get back on their feet emotionally and functioning without dependence on medication.

“The best way to have that is to have veterans involved with veterans,” he said. “We understand what we went through, we understand the road we have to travel to get back to a normal life again.”

O’Brien says the consistency and discipline of farm life can be helpful to veterans.

“It’s a constant challenge every day, there’s always something to do, and the rewards out of that are amazing,” he said.

O’Brien says he’s witnessed positive impact from what’s he’s doing like the reaction he received from the daughter of a veteran who visited their farm.

“She came running back in because she had forgotten something, she threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug… and said ‘Thank you for making my daddy happy again,'” he recalled.

O’Brien says successes like this are possible thanks to the mission he’s now on to use the farm to reach even more veterans.