Alex Sutton is a decorated US Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq. Raised by his grandparents in Iowa, he joined the Army at 17, and served 13 years in the military. He has been wounded in combat and received the Purple Heart for his injuries. In 2011, he was honorably discharged and medically retired, and took up residence on an isolated farm in rural North Carolina with his fiancée Jessica. They raise heritage breed chickens, along with some pigs and sheep.
Beyond his physical wounds, Alex carries the weight of serious, and chronic, post-traumatic stress. The couple is dead set on healing his mental wounds through rigorous farm work and the space of time; however, healing from PTSD is a nonlinear process. In Alex’s case, it encompassed periods, even weeks, of progress punctuated with deep periods of depression and the constant fear of flashbacks and nightmares.
It’s a story playing out in similar ways in thousands of homes around the country. More than 393,000 US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans Health Administration. Meanwhile, a majority of US farms are in their last generation with no family members to carry on the tradition—40 percent of farmers are over the age of 65. Groups like SAVE Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition are pushing to reintegrate vets into civilian life and the workforce through farming.
The new film Farmer/Veteran follows Alex and Jessica’s story as they attempt to soothe some of the mental wounds of war through agricultural therapy. Farmer/Veteran premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 29th.