For these four veterans, farming has not only given them a new purpose in life—it has planted the seeds of a deep, abiding friendship.
They're like the Four Musketeers: All for one and one for all. Except that instead of swords, they carry rakes and shovels. Although they live in different parts of the country, they describe themselves as "besties," bonded by their common experience as U.S. military veterans, their love of the earth and, now, their lives as farmers.
• Kelly Carlisle, 34, a former operations specialist in the Navy, runs a nonprofit urban farm in Oakland, Calif., where she is a single mom to 9-year-old daughter Kaiyah.
• Anna Brogan Mann, 37, an Army reservist who served in Bosnia and Iraq, raises pork and poultry on 16 acres in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Thad, 46, and their two children, Serafina, 4, and Ulysses, 1.
• Vonita Murray, 38, a Navy veteran and the mother of 9-year-old Aislinn Christine, runs a 5-acre organic vegetable farm in Elverta, Calif.
• Althea Raiford, 42, a former Navy Seabee, grows fruits and vegetables on 28 acres alongside her brother, Matthew, 46, in Brunswick, Ga.
The four women were brought together by someone they consider their fairy godmother: Tia Christopher, 32, a Navy veteran who is now marketing director for the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) in Davis, Calif., which provides financial grants, sponsors agricultural conferences and links veterans with experts who can lend them a hand.
Kelly, Anna, Vonita and Althea communicate almost every day, sharing personal stories, trading advice on farming (such as breeds of livestock to use, pest management and advice on the loan process) and, most of all, bucking each other up when they're feeling low—a problem that, as female veterans, they say is inescapable.