A lack of sleep and worry kept him up at nights.
After 13 years as an active duty Army man, Hakeem Moore, a 35-year-old veteran and father of three, found he just couldn’t “turn off” things he’d seen during his 15 months in Baghdad.
Bombs going off, rocket-propelled grenade (RPGs) explosions and people getting killed riding on buses.
It was normal for so long, that Moore said he couldn’t shake that feeling.
Never knowing when it could all end.
That stress returned home with him where back in civilian life, it caused what he called “unrest” in the family.
“Many vets can’t turn that off when they come home,” Moore said. “I worried about a global crisis, safety, my family’s safety.”
And like many returning vets, he turned to alcohol in an attempt to forget.
Even while taking depression medication, insomnia and malnutrition were beginning to take their toll. Moore’s family couldn’t understand where it was all coming from.
Eventually doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Armed with an answer for what was happening, Moore set out to take control of his situation.
“Once I understood, I began to find my meds and foods I was eating weren’t working together,” he said. “ After changing my diet I eliminated 60 percent of meds.”
Of food he was eating, almost all had been processed foods.
He ate more fish and added fresh veggies instead of canned.
But along with vitamins and eating healthier, one more surprising thing was helping him sleep better and causing his depression to plummet.
Through horticulture, studying and growing plants, and aquaponics, creating food by sustaining aquatic creatures and plants, Moore found something priceless.
He had read that horticulture therapy is recommended practice for soldiers returning from combat.
According to the American Horticulture Therapy Association, a national non-profit promoting and developing horticulture therapy, the benefits of being in garden environments goes back to ancient times and since World War II it has been used in veteran rehabilitation.
Moore said being away from distractions, around fresh air and growing grass, gave him something needed.
“Being outside with nature helps,” he said. “ I sleep better.”
Moore now works to show vets a path to peace from the “battlefield in their minds” and a way to employment and also a chance as an entrepreneur.
He started I-Suntari, a low-profit limited liability company (L3C), or a social enterprise that works not to maximize profits, but to promote socially worthwhile goals.
I-Suntari acts as a veteran service that gives soldiers tools to translate war related injuries into entrepreneurship that in turn helps communities.
I-Suntari gives vets know-how to create urban farming and sustainable agriculture techniques like aquaponics. The idea is to provide vets with the chance to find employment while also giving potential food deserts, often a label for Northeast Central Durham, access to fresh foods.
Through a social collaborative, basically local non-profits and businesses working with new strategies, I-Suntari provides vets with access to land to work growing food. They also guide vets in using resources, like capital, available to them.
In addition, the organization finds successful local farmers with a business model they are willing to share with vets, perhaps potential competition, to better their lives and community.
Another example of this community effort is Anathoth Community Garden. Belonging to Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Orange County, the garden will provide land for advanced training and therapeutics. (Editor’s note: in an earlier version of this story, the above paragraph contained incorrect information. The VOICE regrets the error.)
The family of Valee Taylor, a successful fish farmer who owns Taylor Fish Farm, in Orange County, donated the land to Antioch. Taylor, a UNC graduate and a NCCU fraternity member, owns one of the largest fish farms in the country and supplies Whole Foods southeast market.
Taylor’s farm has provided I-Suntari with access to 100 acres of farmland that would function as training ground. As future farmers, veterans would have the chance to learn through Taylor’s example how a successful farm should run.
“We want to help vets to get a larger piece of the pie,” Taylor said. “We want to show vets, some of the most socially economically disadvantaged, how to get a piece of the pie.”
The local community development organization, UDI Community Development, Inc., along with the Durham-based non-profit, CAARE, will be providing several more acres of land in the city for vets to work.
The community dots continue to connect with intern support from students at NCCU’s School of Business. Their task will be community networking and finding what corporations need from local vets.
And for good measure, the Veteran’s Administration has a host of vets willing to participate.
With therapeutic healing compensated for veterans through the VA, these services are free and don’t negatively impact any disability benefits.
Moore said relationships have already been created with future employers.
With an anticipated March start date; Moore and his community partners want to provide some hope next year.
All it took was a little peace.
“We just want to get vets sustained in a business,” Moore said. “Then they can give back to the community that helped them out.”