Innovative Hilo farming program is helping military vets grow a new future

A farm training program in Hilo was recently honored with a national award for its work with military veterans.
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 5:11 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - John and Emily Emmons started Hoola Farms in 2015 after he got out of the Army. Working with his hands to grow things helped to repair the wounds of war.

“That led us to understanding that being outside in nature and growing the food that we were growing was actually helping to make the connection and grow our family again,” Emily Emmons said.

The Hilo-based farm-training program gives veterans a taste of working in agriculture, from entry-level exposure to farming to deeper guidance into how to grow a farm into a small business.

“We’ve reached over 300 veterans and their families throughout the seven years that we’ve been in operation,” Emmons said.

Joshua Black is one of them. He served in combat during his career with the United States Navy, then battled to find his footing as a civilian. Now he has his own farm.

“You have a mission. You’re watching these products or whatever you’re growing come to blossom. Along the way there are all these tasks and objectives you have to meet. It’s not something that’s instantaneous. It’s not instant gratification,” Black said.

Many of the men and women who’ve gone through Hoola’s programs suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some were homeless. Emmons knew farming could help.

“I believed and I saw from others that they were thriving and learning how to survive and navigate a new normal, learning how to survive,” she said.

Through the farming training, Black found his calling. Now he sells much of what he grows and gives the rest to a veterans center.

“In the military you’re taught a lot of the habits and task orders and how to grow a mission and grow a plan, grow something. This correlates over to farming,” Black said.

Hoola has had a lot of help from the US Agriculture Department, GoFarm Hawaii and other organizations. Emmons won a national award for her work.

“We’ve probably had 20 veterans that have gone on to take it into a production agriculture or work with other farm businesses since we got started. One of the things that we think is important about our programs is the opportunity to know what you do want to take on and what you don’t,” she said.

The non-profit also helps civilian homesteaders get into farming, and it’s launching new programs so it can reach more military veterans.

To learn more about Hoola Farms, click here.

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