Urban Garden Helps Mid-South Veterans Grow

Local News

There’s simply not enough we can offer our veteran men and women for their service. A job, home and healthcare are the basics, but how about peace of mind?

There is an acre of land in South Memphis that is giving new skills and stability to those who have given of themselves to defend our Country.

“It’s like an oasis,” said Army Veteran John Benson. “It’s like a little calm place.”

Benson left Baldwin, Mississippi, and joined the Army when he was just a teenager.

“There was a lot more to it than I thought,” said Baldwin. “You know, I’d seen movies and I had an idea, but I didn’t really understand the day-to-day process.”

During active duty, Benson served tours in the Middle East for several years. He returned home to face a drug addiction that he’s now beating every day.

The Urban Garden at Alpha Omega Veterans Services in South Memphis is a part of his healing. It’s nestled between industrial warehouses, an abandoned apartment complex, and the Memphis International Airport.

“There are a lot of benefits from it and I really appreciate that they do it,” said Benson.

Vicki Azlin of Alpha Omega Veterans Services explains this partnership with another non-profit, The Tilch organization, as she points to rows of peppers and tomatoes that started the project.

“It was a step by step process,” said Azlin. “I mean this was the most difficult to build, the greenhouse. The first structure to go up was the barn.”

Eventually, there was a chicken coop first inhabited by a dozen chicks. They are all grown now and laying eggs.

Everything on the farm is natural, no chemicals. You can taste the freshness of the mustard greens plucked straight from the ground.

“The impact of this farm on our heroes is immediate,” said Azlin. “As soon as they saw things go up, they reached out to us.” 

Plus, the impact of this farm goes far beyond this plot of land in South Memphis. 40% of the produce and eggs feed veterans at Alpha Omega residential sites. 40% is sold at market and the other 20% will soon be packaged and sold in stores.

“When we’re eating, I’m thinking, ‘hey I helped grow these’,” said Benson.

The farm is already in its third cycle of vegetable and flowers after only beginning in February of 2018.

“To give them nutritious vegetables, to teach them how to plant, how to grow, how to prepare meals for themselves in that way helps add to the communal feeling that we have here,” said Cordell Walker of Alpha Omega Veterans Services.

Walker directs the veterans programs and he really likes this one.

Like the other services his organization provides, the farm helps veterans integrate back into society after they have suffered traumas of war, several deployments, depression and more.

Benson says he’s making friends.

“Yeah, I ended up making a good friend, a couple good friends actually just from working out here,” said Benson.

“I think the program makes Memphis a better place,” said Walker.

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