ST. GEORGE — Years ago, if you were to ask Southern Utah resident and United States Army combat veteran Brian Lloyd if he ever imagined he would have a normal life, he would have laughed in your face. But today, he is a husband and father of five on a mission to help build a bridge between Utah veterans and their communities through a surprising medium … dirt.
Part of one of the first Army units in the 2002 invasion of Iraq, Lloyd said he spent 6 1/2 years in combat in the Middle East, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Jordan.
His years in combat were harrowing and he spoke of his time in the Middle East through choked-back tears and emotion.
“Six years in combat is difficult and I suffered significantly with PTSD,” Lloyd said. “There are challenges there that I think people don’t see or understand.”
Lloyd said that his family also struggled as they grappled with the challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago, if I ever would have had a normal life … I would have laughed at you in the face and told you that would never have been possible, that there’s no way you could heal from what we went through,” Lloyd said. “One thing in war is you lose your love for the human race.”
Following his time in the service, Lloyd worked 20 years with the government training intelligence personnel for the military in Texas.
While there, Lloyd said he was living in an area where there was a strong veteran “esprit de corps” with many who understood what veterans have been through as well as many veteran resources. But when he returned to Utah that wasn’t the case for him.
“In Texas, there’s a lot of veteran outreach programs, there’s a lot of opportunity for veterans to connect with community, but when I moved back to Utah, none of that was here. That bridge just doesn’t exist,” Lloyd said, adding that veterans understand what other veterans have been through but it is harder for community members to fully understand and connect with those who have served.
One of the things Lloyd said that helped him heal from trauma associated with combat was reconnecting with the earth.
Born and raised in Parowan, Lloyd said that getting back to his agricultural roots has helped him get to a more stable point in his healing.
To that end, and in an effort to help other veterans both reconnect with the earth as well as their communities, Lloyd has set his sights on creating a Veteran Honor Garden, a community garden where veterans, active duty military, their children and their communities can come together and grow food.
A post to the Honor Garden GoFundMe organized to support the nonprofit said that “the vision for the garden is simple.” The vision continues as follows:
Creating spaces where Veterans, Military and their families and friends can heal from traumas that often lead to isolation, drug or alcohol abuse, and suicide while finding the camaraderie of being with others who have a greater understanding of their experiences.
That space is a garden. It is a space that Lloyd said is proven to be emotionally healing.
And there is a growing body of research to back up Lloyd’s claim.
According to an article found on gardeningknowhow.com, a bacteria in soil known as mycobacterium vaccae could provide the same benefits to the brain’s neurons as antidepressant drugs like Prozac.
“The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress,” the article said.
The original study on cancer patients was conducted by Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London in 2004 and it was meant to test whether the bacteria would have immune boosting effects on cancer patients. It didn’t.
But what it did do, according to the research, was improve patient quality of life.
“Her patients were happier, expressed more vitality, and better cognitive functioning—in short, it reduced the emotional toll of advanced cancer,” an article on Quartz.com said of O’Brien’s research.
In addition to what Lloyd claims is the healing power of playing in dirt, he also has loftier goals for the garden including addressing critical food scarcity in vulnerable populations such as disabled and homeless veterans as well as educating younger generations on the importance of farming and gardening to create sustainable communities.
Additional information on the Honor Garden’s fundraising page said the following:
Our core programs are rooted in the adage that ‘it is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in war’ (source unknown) from which we layer on additional horticultural therapy and holistic wellness programs that first and foremost serve Veterans and equip them with a sustainable food source so that they can thrive in the communities they have so honorably served.
There is a lot of work to do for Lloyd to get the garden off the ground including finding a space in St. George where it can be located, ideally in an area that is easy for people to access so they are able to participate.
Lloyd said he plans to spend the bulk of this year securing a space and funding to bring his dream to fruition. It is a dream that he hopes will act as a model for communities across Utah to bring their veteran and citizen populations together for a good cause.
“We want to rub elbows with everybody. We want to create that bond, that connection because that’s going to help with the reintegration for veterans and it’s super important,” Lloyd said.
Learn more about the proposed Veteran Honor Garden here.
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