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Strawberry picking provides a patch of help for veterans

It's strawberry season in central New York, and one strawberry patch in Chittenango  lets you pick fresh fruit, while helping veterans. The patch at Clear Path for Veterans works as both a fundraiser, and an opportunity for vets to get closer to nature.


The two-acre patch on Salt Springs Road in Chittenango, looks like any other, with juicy red fruit hanging off over 19,000 strawberry plants.

Adam Ormby from Manlius showing off a basket of fresh-picked berries, agrees. "Oh, they're awesome. Look at 'em. I mean you can't beat the freshness and they taste totally amazing compared to what you get at the store," he said.

Greeting pickers is Andrew Miller, the agricultural and culinary program director at Clear Path for Veterans, a non-profit group that offers veterans and their families a place that's supportive, as veterans integrate back into society. The strawberries are the fruit of the first agriculture workshop at the center.  

While the "u-pick" strawberries bring in a small income for the center, Miller says they also provide "something for veterans to come out to do -- whether they want to participate and learn about agriculture or whether they wanted to come out and learn something, or just go outside and enjoy something nice and relaxing."

For Miller the agriculture program means  learning something brand new after spending six years in the Army.

"I started out as a field artillery officer, so I blew stuff up. And I switched into military intelligence and spent a lot of time behind a desk, and none of it is like this in any particular way."

Being outside in the bucolic setting Clear Path offers, with gentle breezes and views of Oneida Lake, has helped him.

If you're having a tough day, if you're having a tough time. If you're having some rough thoughts about things that you don't like to think about very often, this is a great place to have that happen, to have a bad day and everybody's very forgiving and very understanding that a lot of vets go through those things."

Miller says another  aspect of the agriculture program is helping vets get back on a track to healthy eating.

"A lot of vets don't have healthy eating habits. You don't get training for that in the military, as far as how to shop for groceries. All your food is provided for you. So it's great to plant something, watch it grow, harvest it, cook it and eat it."

Miller thinks ultimately, things like the agriculture program and others at Clear Path represent a new way to deal with vets.
"The military changes you in a lot of ways that aren't very well documented or known. And maybe for the first time this country is taking a look at what those changes are, and maybe there is more to it than just giving somebody a disability rating, a paycheck and some voc[ational] rehab and saying you're good to go," he said. "Maybe people need to go out here and feel like your part of the world again."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.