An organization that uses farming as a way to end the stigma around mental health and suicide in the military community has a fundraiser at the Blue Fox Drive-In this Friday.
The group, Growing Veterans, has a farm outpost at the Greenbank Farm where veterans and their family members can find support and learn how to till the soil.
Growing Veterans helps veterans transition to civilian life by connecting them with peers at the group’s Greenbank outpost and their main farm in Lynden. The organization, founded by a combat veteran and a former mental health counselor, also offers a peer support training program accredited by the Washington Mental Health Counselors Association.
The group has planned a variety show fundraiser featuring local talent at the popular drive-in theater after many of their other fundraising plans had to be scrapped because of COVID-19.
This year, the organization’s spring plant sale was a “near complete loss,” commercial outlets for the farm’s produce had to cut back on orders and the farm had to close to the public for a period of time, according to its website. The group also donated all of its produce this year to local food banks and charities, including the North Whidbey Help House.
Tonneli Gruetter explained the organization has relied on corporate seed donations in the past, but since many people have started “COVID gardens,” there may not be any seeds left.
“This year there’s a good possibility that we’ll have to buy seeds,” said Gruetter, who does community outreach for the group.
The organization has had to cut back on some of its in-person networking because of COVID-19, “but that doesn’t mean demand for services has gone down. Quite the contrary, we’ve seen it go up,” Gruetter said.
The owner of the Blue Fox Drive-In donated its services, Gruetter said, and a videographer created a video of local talent, since the state currently has a ban on live entertainment.
“It was kind of our workaround for it,” Gruetter said. “We’re going to see some Oak Harbor natives on the big screen.”
For Gruetter, Growing Veterans’ mission is personal. She had a hard time adjusting to Whidbey Island after she and her husband moved here because of the Navy. She struggled with postpartum depression and wasn’t connected to a group of friends but said working at the farm helped her as it has helped others.
“While we might be a veterans organization, we’re not a veterans club,” she said.
“I’m a military spouse, but by all means I feel like they helped save me like any other veteran.” Military spouses, kids and other family members are all welcome at the farm, she added.
The recorded entertainment includes singer-songwriter Ronnie Nix from Oak Harbor, Wren & Della from Bellingham and the Dalgren Family Band from Bow. There will also be a free livestream option for attendees who would prefer to stay home. A screening of the movie “Tropic Thunder” will follow.