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A veteran Army Ranger and his purpose-driven Georgia farm

katie murray agdaily


The extra-wide-brimmed straw hat often found on Jon Jackson’s head matches his extra large personality and the amounts of charisma and sheer grit that he brings with it. He’s high-energy, high-intensity, and certainly highly intelligent, with a big smile that turns up like the brim of that hat.

But if you look just above the smile, you’re likely to find slightly sad eyes conveying that something is haunting him.

Image courtesy of Jon Jackson

Jackson, an Army Ranger veteran, returned from 11 years of combat with remnants of physical wounds as a result of close calls with over 20 IEDs. The emotional and psychological wounds lingering under the skin, however, turned out to be the more injurious ones. Looking for a way to escape from the pain and society, Jackson launched a farming venture. In doing so, he unintentionally found healing for himself as well as a few others along the way. 

Comfort Farms in Milledgeville, Georgia, was established in 2016 in honor of Capt. Kyle A. Comfort, a friend and fellow Ranger who didn’t make it back from Afghanistan.

Jon Jackson (left) named Comfort Farms after Capt. Kyle Comfort, a fellow Army Ranger of Jackson’s who was killed in Afghanistan by an IED. (Images courtesy of Jon Jackson)

Although Jackson didn’t know anything about farming, after a decade of being challenged and intensely focused as a Ranger, he says, “I wanted to do something I wasn’t good at and would fail daily. I don’t run away from adversity.” At the time, he found himself on the verge of walking away from his family and considering suicide. “I needed something to keep me grounded and keep me busy.”

Jackson purchased three pigs and took out a loan for 20 acres to get the farm up and running. Suffering from a traumatic brain injury, he originally planned to blog about his work as well as record it in his diary just to remember what he’d done. But what he wasn’t expecting was for folks to want to read about it, about him, and about the whole driving force behind it all — a place where veterans could come to find healing just like Jackson had.

» Related: Healing on horseback: New Freedom Farm gives veterans with PTSD a new path

Comfort Farms evolved from a party of three to also include rabbits and turkeys, and from there, heirloom fruits and vegetables. A lover of culture, history, ancestry, and good food, Jackson says, “I love to understand how all of our cultures collide through food. We have so many differences, but we’re connected through food.”

At most recent count, Jackson estimates he has over 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, two species of ducks, two or three breeds of turkeys (along with a fourth he’s working to create), five to six breeds of pigs (plus another he’s got in the works), and more breeds of chickens and rabbits than he can begin to count.

Image courtesy of Jon Jackson

Currently growing a rice variety that pre-dates Christ and raising poultry from the oldest chicken breed in America — the Dominique — Jackson says, “I’m growing the best and eating the best.” After eating more MRE’s in the army than is probably suggested, he continues, “I think the reason I cook the way I cook and eat the way I do now is because I spent that decade eating military food.”

As word about Comfort Farms spread — thanks to his blog, a stint on Wife Swap, a John Deere commercial, a documentary, and other stories being written on him, other vets soon found their way to Comfort Farms searching for the feeling the name implies. Some come for a day, some stay for longer. All are volunteers as they seek to get their grounding back in civilian life. They come desperate for an escape from the dark and painful thoughts invading their minds. Meanwhile, there’s a comfort and familiarity found in the routine and specific tasks required on the farm that they can relate to from the military.

Still, what Comfort Farms does best is provide what Jackson calls “a covert curriculum” in that it brings healing to veterans as they go about everyday tasks. Jackson explains, “A vet gets disassociated from their family due to loss at war. They’re numb and don’t know how to feel anymore. But when they’re coming out here, working with piglets, you start building that capacity for loving and caring again.

Walls that remain in place with humans can slowly start coming down when working with an animal.

“I’ve seen grown men cry and hardened warriors shed a tear over having a pig go to market,” he says. “Now you’ve expressed an emotion that you didn’t know you still had. That’s why it’s a covert curriculum.”

Farming as an unofficial therapy works in part because 75 percent to 80 percent of vets come from rural areas with an understanding of agriculture, even if they’ve never farmed before. A farm allows them to come back and find their purpose again.

“One of the things we tap into is the ability to serve again. This time it’s not your country, but your land,” Jackson says.

Values such as integrity and honor also translate directly from the military to farming.

“We don’t cut corners,” Jackson says. “There’s a certain measure of pride that goes into your work. There are times we’re out there and we’ve put in four hours of work, and I’m looking at it and know we’ve got to tear all of it up, because it’s not right. They understand that from the Army.”

Jackson runs a tight ship though for those who show up at the farm searching for the feeling the name implies.

“Whenever veterans show up, they will work on the activity of the day. I don’t give them a chance to choose. I throw them in the fire,” he says. “You can not get bored on Comfort Farms.”

Image courtesy of Jon Jackson

Jackson isn’t your typical farmer and his farm isn’t typical either. He tackles farming the same way he approaches all of life — full throttle and no backing down. “I went into this thing with no knowledge. What I’m doing now, would probably cause some farmers to vomit.”

“Because I didn’t know anything, I came from it from a different position because I didn’t unlearn anything,” Jackson says. “For me, it’s like a blank canvas. Ol’ timers look at me and say that will never work. If it works in my mind, it works for me.”

And what works for him has now worked to help close to a hundred other veterans find peace and grounding as they work the ground that is Comfort Farms.

Katie Murray Alt is a lifelong promoter of agriculture and lover of good stories. She enjoys communicating the story of agriculture and of the people behind our industry.

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