© RYAN KETTERMAN
Sgt. Adam Burke, founder of the Veterans' Farm, and his wife.
Ryan Ketterman is an advertising, editorial and portrait photographer based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Whether taking environmental or corporate portraits, his approach brings out character without pretense. He was contacted over the summer by a photo editor from Parade magazine, who found his work online and was looking for a photographer to take environmental portraits of the founder of a farming program called the Veterans’ Farm.
The Veterans’ Farm is a 14-week fellowship program for United States veterans who were disabled while serving in post 9/11 wars. Founded in 2009 by Sgt. Adam Burke, the program provides, “a combination of work, therapy, education and socialization to help veterans reintegrate into society through sustainable agriculture training.” The participants are taught how to grow organic blueberries and other fruits and vegetables, and then they sell them at local farmer’s markets and commercial markets. They learn both the labor and business side of farming to give them a way to support themselves.
Sgt. Burke himself was wounded during combat while on a 15-month tour of Iraq. He recovered at his parents’ farm in Florida and owes much of his rehabilitation to agricultural work. His parents gave him a two-and-a-half-acre plot where he began to grow his own blueberries. After some time, he noticed that his hand-eye coordination and his cognitive function, both of which had been impaired due to the injuries he sustained, were steadily improving. In addition, the anxiety he had been plagued with upon returning home from war was decreasing. After encountering other veterans who needed help, he knew that what they needed was more than just a handout. They needed something similar to the help he had received to get their lives back on track.
The Veterans’ Farm has a twofold mission. Besides providing horticulture therapy and equipping veterans with skills and a job that can help them transition to a normal life, it also gives a boost to the struggling farming industry in the United States. American farms have been in great decline in recent years due to the lack of young people working in agriculture. The Veteran’s Farm helps to fill the gap; the program has partnered with the Farmers Veterans Coalition to equip veterans with the resources to start their own farm or to work with larger farming organizations after the 14-week period has ended.
Ketterman visited the farm on a sunny, hot day this past August to photograph Sgt. Burke and his wife. Parade gave loose guidelines – they simply wanted real looking images without fluff. Ketterman described the whole atmosphere as “very positive,” explaining that the veterans really enjoy their work cultivating blueberries and take it seriously. He spoke with several of the veterans and ended up photographing some of them along with Sgt. Burke and his wife.
Ketterman’s images achieve exactly what Parade wanted for their editorial: a look at the owner and participants of the farm and the realistic opportunities that the program provides. Unemployment is high among veterans who have returned home with injuries and trauma from their experiences overseas. The Veteran’s Farm tackles all of the issues at the core; in the short term with physical therapy and a support system, and in the long term a career path to an industry that needs the help of dedicated and disciplined people such as those that have served our country.
Besides the print editorial in Parade, the images may be used in other publications as well. Sgt. Burke has also requested to use the images on the Veteran Farm’s Web site. Ketterman immediately added the shoot to his online and print portfolios, as it quickly became one of his favorites. He comments, “It always feels good to be able to say that after an assignment.”
To see more of Ryan Ketterman’s work, visit his Web site.