Vet­eran turns to farm­ing for ther­apy, fresh start

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Front page - BY DREW JACK­SON jd­jack­son@new­sob­server.com JUST BE­CAUSE I’M NOT DEAD DOESN’T MEAN I’M ALIVE. THERE’S A LIFE THAT WAS TAKEN FROM ME THAT I WON’T GET BACK. … I COM­PARE THE DAVON THEN AND NOW. Vet­eran Davon Good­win

At night, he­li­copters from Fort Bragg pass over Davon Good­win’s camper, fly­ing low with their lights turned off, feel­ing their way through the dark­ness above the farm where he works and sleeps.

If he’s not care­ful, his mind fills in the rest, the bombs go­ing off, the pop­ping of near and dis­tant gun­fire join­ing to­gether with the whirr of he­li­copter blades, form­ing a sym­phony of war.

The sounds don’t trans­port him back to Afghanistan, be­cause it’s al­ways in him. But he’s start­ing to make room for the rest of his life.

Grow­ing up in Pitts­burgh un­til the day he left for col­lege, Good­win went to UNCPem­broke in 2007 with dreams of be­com­ing a botanist and us­ing plants to find new cures for can­cer.

To pay for school, he en­listed in the Army Re­serves as a fresh­man, but af­ter three years felt com­pelled to de­ploy, sign­ing up for a tour in Kuwait with mis­sions to Iraq, trans­port­ing heavy equip­ment.

Then or­ders changed, send­ing Good­win and half his unit to Afghanistan in 2010.

In his sev­enth month of de­ploy­ment, Good­win’s truck was in a con­voy blown up by a se­ries of IEDs. Ev­ery­one in his

truck sur­vived, but Good­win’s back was bro­ken in two places and he had a trau­matic brain in­jury. He was air­lifted to Ger­many for treat­ment and re­turned to the United States.

To­day, there are two Davons on ei­ther side of that ex­plo­sion, Good­win said, and its shock­waves con­tinue for him and his fam­ily. Good­win suf­fers from PTSD and lives with se­vere nar­colepsy from his brain in­jury.

“There’s a lot of col­lat­eral dam­age,” Good­win said. “Just be­cause I’m not dead doesn’t mean I’m alive. There’s a life that was taken from me that I won’t get back. … I com­pare the Davon then and now. They’re two dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Their goals are dif­fer­ent, their as­pi­ra­tions are dif­fer­ent.”

For the past six years, Good­win, 29, has been fig­ur­ing out the new Davon, the one he never planned or ex­pected.

This Davon has found a new pur­pose in the low sandy fields of Eastern North Carolina. Here in Hoke, Rich­mond and Scot­land coun­ties, Good­win has emerged as an agri­cul­tural leader, work­ing on is­sues of sus­tain­able farm­ing and food jus­tice.

He’s the man­ager of the Sand­hills AGIn­no­va­tion Cen­ter, an ag­gre­ga­tor that helps small farms get their prod­ucts into new mar­kets.

He’s a long­time vol­un­teer at Grow­ing Change, a group turn­ing an aban- doned Scot­land County prison into a farm tended by at-risk youth. In De­cem­ber, Good­win will head to New York to be the key­note speaker at the an­nual Young Farm­ers Con­fer­ence at Stone Barns Cen­ter for Food & Agri­cul­ture, which is per­haps best known for its on-site restau­rant Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

(The restau­rant is con­sid­ered the 12th-best in the world in a re­cent rank­ing.)

But day to day, Good­win is a farmer, tak­ing care of grapes and pigs, which in turn take care of him.

“It all be­came ther­a­peu­tic. The land and an­i­mals don’t judge you,” Good­win said. “Farm­ing is just big­ger than grow­ing to me. Farm­ing saved my life.”

THE HEAL­ING BE­GINS

Af­ter the ex­plo­sion, Good­win be­came lost and an­gry. He and his long­time girl­friend, Kenya Fuller, a nurse from Char­lotte he met at UNC-Pem­broke, had a son, Amir.

Good­win said he was dis­tant and un­help­ful, even asleep dur­ing Amir’s birth, due to his the­nun­di­ag­nosed nar­colepsy.

He went back to school and fin­ished his botany de­gree one class at a time. He was the first per­son in his fam­ily to grad­u­ate from col­lege, and he did so with a trauma-wracked brain. But Good­win wasn’t happy.

“I felt like a jack­ass,” he said. “I didn’t feel right. I’m a goal-ori­ented per­son. I could have a mas­ter’s de­gree by now. My fam­ily was cheer­ing me on, but I wasn’t proud of my­self.”

His dreams of grad­u­ate school and work­ing in a lab were over, and in­ter­views for jobs in for­est- ry, wildlife and ex­ten­sion of­fices ended with Good­win be­ing told his nar­colepsy was a li­a­bil­ity they couldn’t af­ford. That’s when he turned to farm­ing.

Good­win had never seen a pig be­fore he came to UNC-Pem­broke, and he didn’t know North Carolina grew grapes. But his life changed when Dr. Neil and Soledad Grif­fin gave Good­win a two-week try­out to man­age their 400-acre Fussy Gourmet farm in Raeford.

“As hu­mans we’re con­nected to the land,” Good­win said. “When I started work­ing at the farm and re­ally got my hands dirty, that’s where the heal­ing be­gan.”

The pig taught him pa­tience, and in the Muscadine grapes, he saw him­self in the sea­sons, the dor­mant vines of win­ter and the first buds of spring.

“Life is not this seam­less and straight line,” Good­win said. “There are cy­cles to it. The grapes, there’s such a burst of new life in the spring. It’s so pre­cious that those be­gin­ning leaves make it. It’s so im­por­tant for me to make it. Not just for me but for my fam­ily.”

In Septem­ber, Good­win bought his own farm, 42 acres in Scot­land County, where he’ll move his Off the Land name. There he’ll be joined by Fuller and their now 6-year-old son Amir.

Good­win’s farm is well within the earshot of those he­li­copters that could trig­ger his PTSD. That risk is worth the com­mu­nity he’s found, Good­win said.

“With­out my com­mu­nity, I don’t think I would be as pro­duc­tive as I am,” Good­win said. “I’m try­ing to re­pay the in­vest­ment they made in me. This com­mu­nity is sen­si­tive to the ef­fects of the mil­i­tary. I don’t think I would get the same type of re­cep­tive­ness if we moved some­where else.”

Good­win is hope­ful about mov­ing to the farm, of be­ing in the same house as Fuller and Amir and mov­ing for­ward to­gether. In Fe­bru­ary they’ll move into their house, where Amir is most ex­cited about his promised bunk beds.

“As you go down there’s al­ways an up part,” Good­win said. “I think now we’re on the up­swing, we’re over a hump. We’re not in the low val­ley any­more.”

ALEXA ARD aard@mcclatchy.com

“As hu­mans we’re con­nected to the land,” Davon Good­win says. “When I started work­ing at the farm and re­ally got my hands dirty, that’s where the heal­ing be­gan.” Good­win suf­fers from PTSD and a trau­matic brain in­jury af­ter be­ing in­jured in Afghanistan.

PHO­TOS BY ALEXA ARD aard@mcclatchy.com

Davon Good­win has found a new pur­pose in the low sandy fields of Eastern North Carolina. Here, Good­win has emerged as an agri­cul­tural leader, work­ing on is­sues of sus­tain­able farm­ing and food jus­tice. He’s a long­time vol­un­teer at Grow­ing Change, a group turn­ing an aban­doned Scot­land County prison into a farm tended by at-risk youth. In De­cem­ber, Good­win will head to New York to be the key­note speaker at the an­nual Young Farm­ers Con­fer­ence.

Day to day, Davon Good­win is a farmer, tak­ing care of grapes and pigs, which in turn take care of him. “It all be­came ther­a­peu­tic. The land and an­i­mals don’t judge you,” Good­win said. “… Farm­ing saved my life.”

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