Garden expert supports Soldiers in transition
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Garden expert supports Soldiers in transition
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Garden expert supports Soldiers in transition

By MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - Soldiers at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Riley, Kansas have been getting their hands dirty in a new and different way. This past March, the WTB started a garden for Soldiers in transition to take care of as a different type of therapy. The Soldiers have put in numerous hours tending the WTB's garden resulting in produce adding up to more than 350 pounds.

Garden expert and volunteer Kerri Ebert, who works at Kansas State University's Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops, has a family history of military service and sees teaching gardening to the Soldiers as a way of giving back to those who give so much to our country.

"I believe gardening can have a powerful impact on transitioning Soldiers," Ebert said.

Through a partnership with Kansas's AgrAbility program, a United States Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture funded competitive grant program focused on helping farmers with disabilities begin or continue to farm with assistance to make accommodations for their limitations.

According to Ebert, the end goal of the Kansas AgrAbility Project with the Fort Riley WTB is to expose Soldiers to the therapeutic benefits of gardening. "We also provide tools and advice on body posturing to help teach the Soldiers how to accommodate any physical limitations so they can take those skills with them and continue to garden - or even scale up to more of a farm-type operation."

Thanks to a relationship between the occupational therapists, WTB and the former director of the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, grant funds were secured from the Assistive Technology for Kansans to purchase and construct a 30 feet by 48 feet hoop house (high tunnel unheated greenhouse-type structure) for WTB Soldiers to use as part of their adaptive reconditioning program.

Ebert has taught the Soldiers how to tend to the health of the plant and best practices to help keep the garden at the WTB's hoop house pesticide free. The Soldiers have grown and harvested a variety of produce that has been used in the adaptive reconditioning cooking event and given to other WTB Soldiers. Ebert is proud of the Soldiers' success with the garden and is passionate about helping them plant it forward.

"I love to share the therapeutic benefits of growing food with others. I'm a fourth generation Kansas farmer and even if a person doesn't have a full-blown farm, everyone can grow something; be it flowers, vegetables, or fruits," Ebert said.