Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Westside Farm Earns High Honors; Founder Will Receive the Presidential Citizens Medal at White House

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Westside Farm Earns High Honors; Founder Will Receive the Presidential Citizens Medal at White House

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

Former Army Sgt. Adam Burke already has a Purple Heart. Next week, he will receive the nation's second-highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama.

But he is not one to bask in his own glory.

Burke, 35, prefers to view the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal as recognition of the war-weary veterans who are healing and learning how to make a living at the Veterans Farm he founded on Jacksonville's Westside.

And he hopes to divert the attention to them, the nonprofit and other similar veterans programs.

"It is certainly quite a blessing for us," Burke said Friday. "I am very honored ... but it takes a team for this to be successful."

Obama will present medals to Burke and 17 other recipients at the White House Friday. The selections were made from nearly 6,000 public nominations.

"Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country," Obama said in a news release.

Veterans Farm helps disabled combat veterans reintegrate into society through the use of horticulture therapy, teaching them how to farm, start their own farm or work for large farming organizations in Florida.

The operation opened in 2009 in Burke's hometown of Webster but moved to Jacksonville in 2010. Veterans work at three separate locations, with 10 to 15 of them at each site at any given time. Plans are under way to expand to Connecticut.

The farm started out with blueberries and blackberries, but has since added all sorts of other fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and Longhorn cattle.

"If you can grow it, we do," Burke said.

He was raised on a blueberry farm but left those serene surroundings for the Army. During a 15-month stint in Iraq he was injured in a mortar attack. After returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he realized the farm atmosphere was the best place for him and other veterans to recover.

Shaun Valdivia, a former Marine corporal who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, has been working at Veterans Farm for almost two years. …

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