While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Rick witnessed firsthand the devastation brought about by a scarcity of resources for the people of Djibouti and Iraq, including access to food and clean drinking water.
“I served in the Marine Corps for about four years as an infantryman. Conflict aside, it was still upsetting to just be there, and see the suffering of impoverished people on a large scale,” Rick said. “I’m not going to act like I experienced something much worse than that which others in the military have, but what I did experience was enough to affect me long-term. “
Rick’s unit, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, was deployed in 2004, for three months, to guard Camp Lemonier, a multi-national base located in Djibouti, Africa.
“At that time, Djibouti was the second-poorest country in the world. Ironically, even though we did not experience any combat while there, it’s my opinion that the people of Djibouti were suffering more than the people of Iraq. Djibouti was completely desolate – the soil completely destroyed and turned to desert,” he recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘How can people possibly live here?’
According to Rick, the temperature regularly reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit or more during the hottest part of the day. The locals said that it was an especially hot summer, because birds would die mid-flight and fall out of the sky.
“What I was seeing was an ecosystem that had completely collapsed, and the destruction that brings to people who try to live in those conditions, “Rick said. “People were literally trying to survive by picking through the trash that our base threw out. It was heart breaking.”
In 2005, 3/2 India was deployed to Husaybah, Iraq for seven months to conduct anti-insurgency combat operations. Husaybah is several miles away from al Qaim (the closest large city), and lies directly on the border with Syria. Rick was the pointman for his Team Leader’s fire team, and, at times, for the entire squad. In 2006, 3/2 India deployed to Iraq for seven months again, to conduct anti-insurgency combat operations just outside of Habbiniyah. Habbiniyah is located halfway between Fallujah and Ramadi. By that point, Rick was in charge of his own Fire Team, responsible for the lives of three other men. In September of 2006, while in Iraq, Rick was promoted to the rank of Corporal.
“Iraq was a mind-altering experience. That’s probably the best way to explain it. I came away from that having learned to truly question everything I believed, not in the moment, but as a way to live. I learned a lot about myself, and how the world works. I knew I wanted an occupation after the military that would unequivocally produce good for others. I wanted to be a medical doctor.”
Rick received an honorable discharge from the Corps in August of 2007. He and his wife, Nathalie, moved back to Cincinnati where he immediately became a full-time college student. Rick graduated from Cincinnati State with an Associate of Science Degree in 2010. He then transferred to the University of Cincinnati to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry while also preparing for medical college entrance exams.
“I dropped out of college in my senior year, because my past had caught up with me,” Rick said. “PTSD is awful. I couldn’t go on without at least facing, and attempting to reconcile, in my mind, what had happened to others and myself. “
During that period of self-examination, Rick came across the work of perennial polyculture gardener Geoff Lawton.
“My mouth literally dropped. Here was a man, who was working to turn deserts like those in Iraq and Africa into forests,” Rick said. “I knew from that point on that I wanted to contribute towards the healing of the land – wherever that might be.”
Rick’s resolve to produce nutritionally dense foods was further solidified by the birth of his son, Sawyer, in December of 2015.
“Sawyer is a living miracle. There is no doubt in my mind,” Rick said. “He spent the first five months of his life in the intensive care units of Good Samaritan Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s. His birth weight was 1 pound, 1 ounce. One in nine children are now born premature, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The Cincinnati native first turned to his own half-acre property, where he implemented a perennial-focused polyculture design that he had created in 2016. Wanting to further expand his education and growing experience, Rick signed on as a seasonal apprentice at Turner Farm. His hard work and enthusiasm earned him the spot as next year’s first-year apprentice in the Veteran to Farmer Training Program (VFTP).
“I’m excited about the opportunity to not only work with the Turner Farm garden crew for another season, but to also apply my knowledge of whole-systems thinking to the Veteran Garden,” Rick said. “We can rebuild our soils here in the Midwest, or anywhere for that matter, with regenerative agricultural practices and proper whole-systems design implementation.”
To support Rick and the veterans working to make a difference through sustainable, organic agriculture at Turner Farm, please make a donation to the Veteran to Farmer Training Program.