Michael Lewis sees food as our basic right to freedom.
“One of the veterans I work with said it right,” Michael explains. “He said: ‘I’ve seen communities without infrastructure fail and break down, and when I get home I see the same thing.’ This is true. We’ve lost touch with who we are and what our communities are about.”
Michael is a military veteran, and his brother, Fred Curtis-Lewis, is a combat veteran. Upon his brother’s return from his last trip overseas, Michael witnessed firsthand the sometimes calamitous effects of war, including his brother’s brain injury.
To offer his support, for both his brother and other veterans, he started the Growing Warriors Project. The program equips veteran families with the skills and tools necessary to grow high quality, natural grown produce as a viable community and business model. As part of its mission, Growing Warriors is “an opportunity for veterans to serve their communities in their new role as true nation builders–literally from the ground up–family by family and region by region.”
“The service teaches you to serve and you want to serve in the best capacity you can. The most important thing is to serve food to our community,” Michael says.
Like many Americans with rural roots, Michael’s grandfather farmed. But his family moved to a nearby city long before Michael and his brother could experience a real day out in the land. Now with seven years farming under his belt, Michael sees a “great parallel” with farming and the military.
“You have to be keenly aware of your surroundings at all times. You have to work hard, you have to sacrifice, you expect the worst at all times.”
With this sentiment, Michael says he is realistic about farming and works to provide innovative solutions for farmer veterans to earn an honest living while growing food with respect to the land and to their personal healing. He said service didn’t mean as much to him while in the military as it does now, working with farmer veterans.
“We really make sure we work as close together as we can, sharing in our success and our losses and helping each other,” Michael says. “Building one farmer doesn’t do anything. You’re building an island like that. We’re trying to build a coast liner. That’s what we’re trying to do, build our systems and our productions on what other farmers are doing. We just have to work together on this. Setting real expectations and making sure we understand that it’s going to be hard. And we’ve been successful.”
Michael’s program also stresses the importance of food security in Appalachian areas, including his native Kentucky.
“Everything in our life is about the dirt that we stand on,” he says. “Agriculture, the way it is now, has taken away what it means to be an American. We look at our history of what we are proud of, but we have this constant growth and desire for more, bigger, better.
It’s my desire to be the best I can to defend [farming]. Farming is everything. Our food is everything. Our diet, our health, that spreads out across cultural problems. This is the most important issue that faces our country today. And the veterans that are farming, they see it.”
Today, Michael is addressing the nation as he launches a certified Homegrown Heroes food label across the country.
We are proud to know Michael and his brother Fred. Today, we thank them and all veterans for their service to our country, and for their desire to continue in that service. Through their profound commitment to our nation as a community, we are reminded that this land is truly our land and we’re in it together.
To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.
Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks
Photo courtesy of Michael Lewis.