MARC Webb always thought he would spend his working career in the Royal Australian Air Force, while wife Rhiann had grown accustomed to the idea of military life.
So when Marc was injured in Afghanistan in 2015 and medically discharged in mid-2019, both the loss of job after nearly 18 years of service and ongoing physical issues resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.
They lived in Gawler at the time, and Marc said he would often find slight relief from his PTSD through their courtyard garden.
"We didn't have a lot of space, but we took great pride in what we could produce and share from that small space," Rhiann said.
Rhiann was also into bees and honeymaking, which Marc also found therapeutic.
"I found a sense of calm when watching the bees - it was mindfulness that felt really good towards my recovery," he said. "So I did some research and found there were PTSD beekeeping groups for veterans in America - Hives for Heroes - which really piqued my interest.
"It had been hard for me to accept my PTSD, but then the more I researched, the more I realised there were other people out there like me and how agrotherapy could really help."
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So when offered post-military training, Marc decided to study permaculture.
"We didn't realise we had been doing permaculture for years, with our garden and beekeeping, recycling and reducing plastic - having that sustainable mindset," he said.
"But with the course, I also learnt a lot about processes and reading the landscape.
"Permaculture is also about encouraging that sense of community and sharing spirit, and I'm really into information sharing, so more ideas began to flow."
Rhiann also had her own journey with mental health, dealing with a military spouse with PTSD and suffering a mental injury at work - she has since trained in Mental Health First Aid.
Armed with this new knowledge, the couple decided to buy a farm in August 2019, with the intention of expanding their market garden, running livestock and bees. But the main goal would be to use the four-hectare Kenton Valley "sanctuary" to help others in their recovery through farm therapy and education.
"I knew it was working for me, so we thought why not see if it can help others," Marc said.
They held their first beekeeping course in November 2019 and they have since run five sessions.
"The course is open to anyone, but we do have a strong focus on marginalised persons, especially veterans," Rhiann said.
The couple even held a fundraising event on-farm for the Black Dog Institute in late 2019, with live music and comedy, which was so successful that more were planned.
That was until the bushfires of December 2019.
In the Cudlee Creek bushfire, the Webbs lost their house and sheds, orchard and market garden, livestock infrastructure, and 12 of their 18 bee hives.
"Thankfully we had time to open all the gates within the property so we didn't lose all our animals (sheep, alpacas, geese and chickens) - they ended up in the creek gully, which didn't burn," Marc said.
But there was a lot they did lose, including Marc's memorabilia and medals from his time serving overseas.
"That's been one of the hardest parts about the fire, is that it has taken things that I can never replace," he said.
But in the past 12 months, the Webbs have been able to rebuild the main shed on-farm, where they have restarted production of their honey and wax products.
They also restarted their agrotherapy courses in October, but COVID-19 has since put them on hold.
As to their new house, that is still a while away, but the plans are in for a very sustainable, economical and highly-efficient home.
"That is one silver lining from the fires is that we have been able to rebuild with this new sustainable focus in mind," Marc said.
They are also back up to running 16 hives, with courses to resume in April once the shed rebuild has finished.
- More: aristaeusfarms.com
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