After Mike Lewis saw how farming helped his brother transition back into civilian life after serving as an American soldier in Afghanistan, Lewis started Growing Warriors to help other veterans do the same. From its inception, Growing Warriors tried to utilise farming to help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress, regain some independence and have food security.
In 2014, Lewis and his organisation also became one of only 70 to start hemp (better known as cannabis) farming for textiles in America.
In 2011, just as Lewis’s brother was about to return from duty in Afghanistan, his brother was shot in the back of his head by an enemy snipper. Lewis’ brother was forced to return to their hometown of Kentucky where he worked on the family farm. Lewis witnessed first-hand how his brother was able to deal with a serious brain injury and post-traumatic stress through farm work. Lewis was so inspired by his brother’s transition that he started Growing Warriors, which presented monthly classes on topics such as seed saving, food serving, and healthy eating choices, and aimed to help soldiers feed themselves.
The project soon reached success as several veterans and small-scale farmers moved towards commercial farming, producing over 18 000 pounds of organic food through Growing Warriors’ programmes. Lewis assigns this success to his belief that it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect a trained soldier to transition into a desk job. Farming, Lewis believes, provides a much more hands-on lifestyle.
In 2014, in a pioneering move, Growing Warriors utilised the recent leniency in American Federal legislation to acquire hemp (cannabis) seeds through help of American clothing producer Patagonia. Once harvested, Growing Warriors started to use the hemp to make material that could be resold for profit – creating financial security for veterans. This, Lewis says, is a journey through uncharted territory as veterans are regaining a sense of purpose and community.