Veteran Helps Harvest 750 Pounds of Produce From Togus Garden to Feed Vets

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AUGUSTA, Maine. (WABI) A garden at the Togus VA Medical Center campus in Augusta produced 750 pounds of fresh vegetables this year.

That produce feeds veterans on-site.

"It keeps your mind in a good place."

Harold Massey says gardening gives him purpose.

"It's keeping me active and keeping my mind right."

Massey served in the US Army for three years from 1979 to 1982. Using his landscaping experience, he's been tending the garden at Togus for the past two years and learning a lot about his newfound green thumb.

"Some things will grow better in the cold than other things. So we're learning, you know? It's a great experience for me though because I'm learning new things," said Massey.

The garden sits on a small patch of land on campus and has been there for five years. It was first conceived as a patient-employee wellness initiative using grant money.

But two years ago, long after funding for the garden had dried up, the project was revived as a means of returning to Togus' self-sustaining roots.

"How can we get back to some of those roots? And last year was an unmitigated success," said Justin Bakaian, Chief of Nutrition & Food Service.

Much of that success can be attributed to Massey and his commitment to harvesting food for the veterans on-site.

"Being a part of something that's bigger than me, you know?"

"He's a volunteer who takes care of all the gardens and he'll come up with lettuces and we'll wash and cut, and that lettuce might go into the patient's salads the next day. Farm-to-table right here in Maine," said Bakaian.

The Togus kitchen saves money, veterans eat the healthiest produce available, and Massey can connect with nature in a peaceful setting that he hopes will attract more veterans in the future.

"It's full-circle because it helps me and keeps me focused on things and it's actually helping the kitchen on some of their costs on things and then the veterans are getting fresh vegetables too, so it's just not about me," said Massey.

Massey helped harvest 750 pounds of fresh produce this year, and Togus officials have recognized the potential of the garden and all it offers to those that enjoy what grows in it to those that tend it.

Despite being a one-man show for the time being, Massey says he's looking forward to getting more veterans involved next year.