Veteran turns to farming to grow through PTSD

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CANNON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — An Iraq War veteran from West Michigan is using farming to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Justin Bajema, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, started Rebel Pastures near Rockford with his wife at the beginning of the pandemic. The farm sells pasture-raised chickens and eggs through online sellers like Market Wagon. This year, the Bajemas raised 3,600 chickens using sustainable practices.

“I remember my dad telling me that the military needs good men and good women and it’s about service and that’s something that’s really stuck with me and we really see farming as it’s about service,” Bajema said.

Rebel Farms near Rockford. (Nov. 9, 2021)

The Marine began his military career shortly before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I joined the Marine Corps May 20 of 2001. After I graduated boot camp, went back for infantry training; my first day it was Sept. 11, 2001,” Bajema said.

He was injured twice while serving in Iraq and awarded a Purple Heart.

“Nov. 29 of 2004, we were on nighttime patrol and ended up getting ambushed by an (improvised explosive device) going about 5 mph,” Bajema recalled. “I was the first vehicle and I heard over the radio, ‘I think I see someone.’ Before he got done, bomb detonated.”

Miraculously, everyone he was with survived. Bajema himself was wounded and ultimately brought back to U.S. for treatment.

“I went from Baghdad to Germany, then back to Bethesda and D.C., where I had eight surgeries was in the hospital for several weeks,” he said. “I felt like I abandoned my guys, that I was relatively safe back in the states in the hospital.”

He said farming and talking about what happened helps him cope with PTSD.

“PTSD is a real thing for a lot of veterans. I mean, you go downrange and people try to kill you. You don’t just forget about that,” Bajema said. “You can go one of two ways: It can be a very dark journey or you can use that to pivot and have post-traumatic growth and that’s what I really wanted to achieve was growth.”

He hopes to help other veterans who are interested in farming learn sustainable practices.

“I think farming is a cool way that we can bring together veterans and civilians to work side by side and together on something that is greater than them,” Bajema said.

Rebel Farms near Rockford. (Nov. 9, 2021)

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