Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Former Army Ranger’s local mission supports healing, self-discovery through therapeutic farming

The daybreak air is breezy. The chickens are already clucking. Georgia farmer Jon Jackson smiles and waves as vehicles slowly enter through the gravel entrance of his therapeutic property, Comfort Farms. Chore of the morning: Build new raised beds with the help of community farmers and gardeners. Jackson and a few volunteers spend an early Saturday drilling wooden boards together then lining them along the perimeter of his livestock and produce farm. A steady, public demand for his fruits, vegetables and meats means more needed planting space for next year’s growing season.

“A lot of planning and hard work goes into this line of work, but that’s why I love farming,” said Jackson, 43, based in Milledgeville, Georgia. “It’s also ancestral work that keeps me connected to the land.” Jackson grows everything from the basics to rare fruits and veggies on 5 acres. His diligence is now a $200,000 a year business. And he’s only been at it for three years. “I’m not just growing stuff to grow it,” he said. He takes flavors and taste to heart. Collaborating with other like-minded folks who appreciate agriculture and producing quality, Southern-made foods, too.

Named after his fallen Ranger buddy, Capt. Kyle A. Comfort, Comfort Farms attracts civilians, active duty military and veterans. “Anyone can come out here and learn something new or just enjoy nature,” the former combat Army Ranger said. “This farm is a place of healing, doing and self-discovery.” Jackson turned his traumatic war experiences into a place that celebrates lost loved ones. Helping people rebuild and regrow holistically. Visitors can even bond with the farm’s rural residents, which include 40 hens, 50 turkeys, 150 rabbits and 70 pigs.

“In total, this operation has up to 1,500 cattle and 1,000 hogs in Middle Georgia from partnering with neighboring farmers,” he said. “I was always fascinated by my father’s farm life as I grew up, so he must have planted the seed for me.” The farm’s guests journey from every point of the nation to experience an on-site farmer’s market of fresh produce: carrots, beets, collards, onions, tomatoes, okra, green beans, potatoes, Georgia apples and squash. Most come straight from the South’s Black Belt Region to purchase Jackson’s North Georgia candy roaster squash.

“My candy roaster pies are so good you will forget all about a sweet potato or pumpkin pie,” he said. This winter squash is an uncommon heirloom variety. The banana-shaped fruit can stretch up to 18 inches long and 6 inches wide. It’s sweet and smooth to eat. “I can make four pies with one squash,” said Jackson. “That comes to about $48 per squash. It’s a popular sale for the holidays.”

Jackson also farms Sea Island white flint corn — a healthy, Southern corn variety that traces back to plantation days. A primary produce of South Carolina’s and Georgia’s Gullah/Geechee people, this corn was never a market corn. By the 1910s, it stopped growing on a large scale.

Jackson believes in honoring the land and Black Belt culture through heirloom produce. And if he’s not cultivating such crops, he’s connecting with folks through history. Farming workshops, family events and farm-based vet therapy programs are yearly must-dos for him. He’s constantly traveling and networking with celebrity chefs, butchers and foodies to perfect his agribusiness and culinary craft. He just wrapped up feature-length documentary “Comfort Farms,” addressing his struggle from war to working the land. The project follows Jackson’s farming-to-freedom trajectory after six tours overseas.

“Growing your own food is independence,” said Jackson. “I suggest anyone going into farming, especially those returning home from war, to see this film and visit the farm.” After all Jackson has seen in combat, his rural background pulled him back to agriculture to redirect his war woes. “Growing was in my genes,” he said. “Farming gives me a new purpose. Comfort Farms does that for so many people and families.”

Visit comfortfarmsmovie.com for a sneak peek to Jackson’s documentary.

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