Eric Grandon of West Virginia is a war hero in the truest sense. Spending nearly 20 years in the Army, he was a combat veteran in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom II, and participated in four peace-time missions to the Middle East. Yet, when a horrific flashback overtook him in 2011, he was unable to continue his job as a Physical Therapist Assistant and was deemed unemployable and permanently disabled from PTSD. Unable to work, he found himself wandering around his farm aimlessly for nearly two years until he met James McCormick, the present Director of the Veterans and Warriors Agriculture program under the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
A veteran himself, McCormick encouraged Grandon to take up farming, which had helped him work through his own PTSD. It was during a USDA Armed to Farm conference hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) that Grandon officially decided to become a farmer. He even took up beekeeping which he found to be the most therapeutic of them all often bringing tears of joy to his eyes.
“It seemed the more I worked the ground, the less I was haunted,” Grandon commented. “I can truly say, agriculture has saved me from myself.”
Since then, ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture has been his “one stop shop” for information on how to run, fund, manage, and expand his farm. He is a Homegrown Hero and even received a generous grant from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) EQIP program to build a high tunnel where he now harvests 300 heads of romaine lettuce for four separate county school systems. Without these organizations, Grandon explains, he would not be a successful farmer today.
And perhaps that is what Grandon is most proud of now. His crops - broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet pepper, and watermelon amongst others - provide a local, delicious, and nutritious product to four local county school systems. At Sugar Bottom Farm, they do not use herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizer on their products.
As the White House celebrates Local Food month, USDA hopes to recognize Homegrown Heroes like Eric Grandon who are bringing local food to their communities. Coming from a USDA designated StrikeForce community (PDF, 618 KB), where more than 20% of the population lives in poverty, Eric Grandon has used agriculture to change not only his life, but the lives of all others around him.