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Service & Sacrifice: Healing soil for the soul

A homegrown charity in East Tennessee called Frontline Gardens builds free gardens for veterans and first responders.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A garden gives you a purpose — it needs you to live. 

That's a sentiment summing up the philosophy behind a budding homegrown charity called Frontline Gardens. The East-Tennessee-based non-profit finds veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and builds them a free garden in their backyard.

“It doesn't work for everybody, but for me, it works. We thought it would be beneficial to have other veterans to see if this is something that they could use,” said Michael Trost, who was wounded during a tour in Afghanistan and has dealt with PTSD from an attack that almost cost him his life. 

Credit: Stephanie Trost
A wounded veteran from Afghanistan finds a new peace turning dirt on his farm.

“I have hypervigilance, so I'm always kind of a little bit on edge,” Trost said. 

His wife, Stephanie, saw the positive impact working on their own farm had on her husband. His daily “chores” include caring for their animals and nurturing their plants. They appeared to help soothe his anxiety, she said.

“I could see the healing that Mike got from work in that land. And so, I started looking into horticultural therapy because I could definitely tell there was a connection there. So, I started reading more about it and studying more about it. And then [The University of Tennessee] worked with me on a lot of it,” said Stephanie, who started their non-profit about a year ago.

Credit: Tish Bowen
Joseph Jones served in the Marine Corps and suffers a series of health problems tied to his military service overseas.

Recently, a volunteer group from US Bank helped build a backyard garden for a Vietnam veteran suffering health problems tied to his service overseas. The new sanctuary includes raised garden beds in donated Jack Daniel's half-barrels and a tiered herb planter.

“It's just, it's just beautiful. I can't, I'm overwhelmed,” said Joseph Jones, filling with emotion watching a collegial group who in a matter of hours had constructed a new space for him to find peace.

Credit: Stephanie Trost
Founders of the East Tennessee charity Frontline Gardens

“We've had so much done for us," Stephanie Trost said. "It was time for us to get back."

Credit: John Becker
Frontline Gardens is a Knoxville based nonprofit building gardens for military veterans and first responders.

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