Sow­ing Seeds of Hope

An in­jured soldier and his wife find healing on their Ten­nessee farm.

Farm & Ranch Living - - CONTENTS - BY JILL GLEESON

An Army vet and his wife found healing while grow­ing a hops farm.

United States Army Capt. Michael Trost al­most died. It was Feb. 20, 2012, and Michael was serv­ing in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, as a civil af­fairs spe­cial­ist, work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to help build in­fra­struc­ture. He and his team were es­cort­ing U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives to a vil­lage in the south­east­ern re­gion of the coun­try when the group came un­der ma­chine-gun fire. Michael was hit five times and lost 12 units of blood be­fore be­ing taken by mede­vac to Kan­da­har, where he un­der­went the first of more than 30 surg­eries to re­pair his body. Michael had lost most of one hand, in­clud­ing his in­dex fin­ger and thumb, and suf­fered wounds to his ab­domen, legs and but­tocks. The sci­atic nerve in his right leg was sev­ered, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble ini­tially for him to walk and caus­ing ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain that would last for sev­eral years, un­til his lower leg was am­pu­tated. And yet, a half-decade later the 55-year-old and his wife, Stephanie, em­barked on a phys­i­cally de­mand­ing new ad­ven­ture: farm­ing 25 acres of land in Madis­onville, Ten­nessee. They pur­chased the prop­erty, which is lo­cated 30 miles south of their Maryville home, late last year. Soon af­ter, they be­gan work­ing the land with the help of a back­hoe do­nated through A War­rior’s Wish, a pro­gram

founded by a non­profit vet­er­ans ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion called Hope for the War­riors. “Whether it’s trench­ing out lines or dig­ging out ar­eas for the equip­ment shed,” Michael says of the ma­chine, “it’s just been a god­send. I don’t know what I would have done without it. It’s been an in­stru­men­tal tool in help­ing me get this farm thing off the ground.” Michael has al­ready put in an acre of or­ganic hops, while Stephanie is in­stalling or­ganic vegetable beds. They’ve put up a chicken coop and a five-stall equip­ment shed, as well as 2,500 feet of fence. A green­house is on the way, and the pair are build­ing a log cabin, which they plan to rent out through Airbnb and Farm Stay U.S. to help with the mort­gage. Asked how he went from sur­viv­ing such griev­ous in­juries to ac­tu­ally thriv­ing, Michael, who re­tired from the mil­i­tary in 2014, replies, “I got through my tough­est times with my faith in Je­sus Christ, my beau­ti­ful wife and an in­ner de­ter­mi­na­tion my dad in­stilled in me to never quit.” A Cal­i­for­nia na­tive, Michael en­listed right out of high school, in­spired by his fa­ther’s ca­reer in the Ma­rine Corps and by his grea­tun­cles who fought in World War II. Michael spent 32 years in the Army, 20 of which were ac­tive duty, in­clud­ing a de­ploy­ment to Mo­sul, Iraq, in 2004-’05. He is the re­cip­i­ent of nu­mer­ous medals, among them a Pur­ple Heart and a Bronze Star. Above, Capt. Michael Trost (cen­ter) with fel­low sol­diers in Afghanistan; be­low, work con­tin­ues on the log cabin at the Trosts’ new farm.

I got through my tough­est times with my faith in Je­sus Christ, my beau­ti­ful wife and an in­ner de­ter­mi­na­tion my dad in­stilled in me to never quit.” —MICHAEL TROST

Michael and Stephanie, who have been mar­ried 11 years, moved to Maryville in 2008, where they set about con­vert­ing the ru­ral 7-acre par­cel of land that sur­rounds their house into what Stephanie calls a hobby farm. It turned out to be great prac­tice for their work­ing farm in Madis­onville. “We built mul­ti­ple barns and added horses, chick­ens and don­keys,” she says. “We also had a big gar­den where we grew vegeta­bles and put in an or­chard. So we did a lot of farm­ing stuff here on the prop­erty small-scale. We love it.” The cou­ple’s time in par­adise was in­ter­rupted first by Michael’s de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan and then by his in­juries, which forced him to spend 10 months at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Bethesda, Mary­land. Al­though sur­geons were able to save Michael’s right leg, be­cause of com­pli­ca­tions he de­cided to have it am­pu­tated be­low the knee in April 2016. Nearly a year passed be­fore he re­turned home, fi­nally al­most pain-free. A fan of craft beer, Michael had been tin­ker­ing with the idea of farm­ing hops since around the time of his first con­va­les­cence in 2013, when he de­cided to plant an ex­per­i­men­tal hops gar­den at the Maryville prop­erty. Michael earned a cer­tifi­cate in pro­fes­sional brew­ing science from Knoxville’s South Col­lege, but his ed­u­ca­tion didn’t end there. He and Stephanie are en­rolled in the Ar­ca­dia Cen­ter for Sus­tain­able Food and Agri­cul­ture’s Vet­eran Farmer Pro­gram at Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. They make the 1,000-mile round-trip jour­ney every month to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram, where they study sub­jects rang­ing from soil man­age­ment to crop ro­ta­tion and farm land that once be­longed to Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton. All of that knowl­edge will come in handy as they con­tinue to work their crop. Hop rhi­zomes pro­duce vines that even­tu­ally reach 18 to 20 feet high. These woody ten­drils are tied to a trel­lis sys­tem, and the flow­ers— which re­sem­ble pinecones—are har­vested in early Septem­ber. The plant is then cut down to about a foot above ground level, where it will sprout again come spring. Michael plans to sell the hops to com­mer­cial and home brew­ers, who

use the oil from in­side the flower to fla­vor their beer. But he calls his time tend­ing the farm “more ther­a­peu­tic than any­thing. It helps me get up in the morn­ing be­cause it gives me a sense of pur­pose, a mis­sion. Those rhi­zomes need me to wa­ter them and fer­til­ize them and take care of them. If I have a lim­i­ta­tion or some­thing I can’t do, I just find ways to make it work. I tire a lit­tle bit more quickly these days, mainly be­cause I’m get­ting older. It kind of catches up to you.” In ad­di­tion to the back­hoe he re­ceived from A War­rior’s Wish, Michael gets help from a young Ma­rine he’s hired to as­sist him on the farm. Stephanie says she’s seen how work­ing the land has not only ben­e­fited her hus­band but also their farm­hand. “He strug­gles very badly with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der,” she says of their helper. “He’s very an­ti­so­cial. But he tells us every day, ‘You don’t know what you’re do­ing for me. I can’t tell you how this is help­ing me.’ I think farm­ing is very cathar­tic for vets be­cause it’s phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing, but it’s also about cre­at­ing some­thing, be­ing part of some­thing and hav­ing your hands in the dirt. There’s some­thing about just be­ing out in the dirt that is healing.”

The Trosts’ first Madis­onville hops crop was planted in the spring of 2018. Fac­ing page, clock­wise from top left: Michael and Stephanie on their wed­ding day; the cou­ple at a Yan­kees game where Michael was pre­sented an elec­tric wheel­chair; and Michael with com­rades in Afghanistan. The man on the far right is Cpl. Robert Rose, who Michael says saved his life.

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