Each year in the United States, thousands of veterans die by suicide, Jon Jackson was nearly one of them. Jon enlisted in the army after the September 11th attacks and served six deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. When Jon came home he struggled with the return to civilian life. He could not erase the horrors of war and suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury he received from combat. He was unable to find help or relief through traditional services for vets and felt alienated from his friends and family.
One fateful day Jon sat quietly contemplating taking his own life and his son burst into his room to invite him to go to lunch. It was in that moment that Jon decided he needed to commit himself to healing himself and others. He decided to create Comforts Farms, a farm based veteran-run organization, where veterans can reintegrate into society together. Farming, raising animals and being in touch with the earth has helped Jon and many other veterans heal from the traumas of war.
“They want you to go and do your job but they don’t really know what that entails. And what that entails is losing a part of yourself that you’ll never get back for the good of society, and the biggest issue we have with transitioning vets, is transitioning from that war fighter to civilian again.”
"Nothing grows in comfort," is the unofficial motto of Comfort Farms. Even in discomfort, a lot grows on this 20-acre working farm. The farm is named after Jon's friend Kyle Comfort, an Army Ranger who lost his life in combat. In the past eight years, through hard work and determination, Jon and his veteran community has transformed this piece of land into a vibrant working farm, run entirely by volunteer veterans, donations, and local support.
Agrotherapy is a growing field of study that describes the practice and phenomena of healing through the soil, and is what Jon hopes to pass on to every vet who stays at the farm. There is plenty of promising research and real-life experience that extols the effects of agrotherapy – keeping one's mind and body occupied through outdoor physical labor and contact with animals and plants. Jon is at the forefront of his movement, and is a household name among many vets, like him, who haven't found help through conventional treatments or therapy.
Jon’s other passion is seeds. On Comfort Farms, he is growing varieties of heirloom vegetables and grains that are either rare or near extinction. Jon plans to launch an heirloom seed company, and is currently writing a book on the experience he went through while tracing his African lineage through seeds. Seeds are a vital part of our history, and are often missing in the local food conversation. As Jon would say, seeds are integral to our heritage, and a gift to us passed down through generations.
As a daughter, sister and granddaughter of combat veterans, I've seen firsthand the lasting mental and physical scars of combat. Please consider supporting organizations like Stag Vets and Comfort Farms who are offering alternative methods for healing and readjusting to civilian life.
In our conversation we speak about Jon's journey to heal, the joy of service, the power of farming, political divisiveness, and the hidden significance of seeds. I hope you enjoy.
This is a story about service, sacrifice, and the healing power of nature and community.