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Ground Operation

Through farming, veterans across the country tend to the soil—and the wounds of war.

IT’S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband’s planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I’m completely occupied with pictures of war. I’ve cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.

“This is an Aardvark,” he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. “What does that do to the soil?” I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military hub in Afghanistan, surrounded by minefields and littered with burned-out tanks and planes, the wreckage of war from the Soviets. No one farms here, or has, or will for a long, long time.

FOR THE PAST three seasons, Adam McDermott has come to our farm in Central Pennsylvania’s Stone Valley every Friday morning to harvest vegetables for the food bank. We always chat while we bunch beets or pick green beans, and now I wonder why we’ve never talked about his years in the Army.

“This farm has definitely been part of my therapy,” he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in Iraq: taking heavy equipment down unfamiliar roads to set off hidden explosives, being promoted to sergeant, and then losing three friends when a bomb shattered their Humvee. Adam came home in 2008 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an alcohol addiction. “A lot of guys struggle with alcohol,” Adam says. “In the military you have camaraderie and a sense of purpose. But when you get back, there’s just this big void.”

Frankenhay

Genetically modified  alfalfa is certain to contaminate normal fields -- but not to meet farmers needs.

Shopping for Justice

My journey with Super Giant

“Lord, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.”
—Latin American prayer

I love grocery shopping. The tidy rows of boxes and cans, the perfect mounds of fruit, the wheeling of carts, the checking of lists, the whoosh of the automatic mister that leaves the leafy greens sparkling. I even like the Muzak.

So last summer, to celebrate the grand opening of a Super Giant grocery store in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, I walked five blocks to buy flour for my fiancé’s birthday cake. Behind the renovated Tivoli Square complex, which now houses the Sojourners office, I found a gala underway: red, white, and blue bunting, a live salsa band, and shoppers scrambling for the opening-day sales.

I was impressed by the row of gleaming registers (no more long lines at the dingy Safeway on Columbia Road), the piles of fresh produce (no more wilted lettuce from the tiny SuperSave on Mount Pleasant Street, though it did have homemade tamales and a cashier who knew my name), and an entire aisle of organic options (no more car trips to Glut food co-op in Mount Rainier, Maryland). Also, I’d heard talk in the neighborhood about all the new jobs, and sure enough, there was an army of green-aproned cashiers and stockers.

Toward Food Justice

The wealthy feast, the poor go hungry. Surprise.

I biked past banners flapping in the breeze outside the Department of Health and Human Services: "Eat more fruits and vegetables!" they said. "Take the stairs instead of the elevator!" The next day I read about it in The Washington Post. Not only had HHS launched a Slim Down America campaign, but Secretary Tommy Thompson himself was on a diet - fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch, no more beers at The Dubliner after work. "It's difficult at the beginning," Thompson told the Post, "but every single one of us has got to take care of ourselves. We can't expect somebody else to do it for us."

From the low-carb craze to the organic food movement, it seems that the whole world is watching what it eats. My own Mennonite Church USA, so fond of cream sauces and jello salads, nevertheless rallied behind a recent health care statement that included among its objectives: "Our potlucks will no longer look like an invitation to a heart attack."

With 64 percent of Americans overweight, and obesity-related health care costs approaching $117 billion annually, calls to shape up and eat right might be warranted if they didn't obscure the fact that not everyone has access to the produce aisle. A 2000 USDA analysis found that low-income women are half as likely as wealthy women to eat salad or fruit on any given day. A 2002 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that they're also 50 percent more likely to be obese.

Breathing Space

I came to the capital for a one-year internship, like so many Washingtonians, believing I'd get my fill of city life and move on to greener pastures, literally.

Veggies for Jesus

It's a partnership that reads like a parable: Invest some talents around springtime, trust the farmer to sow good seed, then bring home the harvest all summer long.

Connections

Volunteer Opportunities

A Different Drum

Imagine a packed elementary school auditorium and only an hour between hundreds of kids and summer vacation. "Peace" isn't the word that comes to mind.

Connections

Employment Opportunities

New and Noteworthy

Let's Talk

Connections

Employment Opportunities

New and Noteworthy

Living Wisely

Connections

Employment Opportunities

What makes Pura Vida beans better?

Fair-trade and shade-grown: good words for impressing your tree-hugging, java-loving friends. But do you know enough to convince the co-worker who's sold on Starbucks?

Changing the Menu

My friends and I are young and hip. We buy local, ride bikes, vote for Nader, and we do not despise conspiracy theory.

Violence is Against My Religion

From his fifth-floor window in Mennonite Central Committee's D.C. office, Daryl Byler can keep an eye on the Supreme Court while he takes calls from a press...

New and Noteworthy

‘You Must Sing'

Connections

Employment Opportunities

Connections

Employment Opportunities

Down on the Farm

Too often, farm bill dollars land in the wrong hands.