Front Line Military Service
Sarah Stenuf, the founder of Veteran’s Ananda, served her country in the US Army. Sarah served on active duty for four years and did one tour in Afghanistan. She served on the front lines as Apache helicopter crew chief where she rose to the position of Training & Armorer Room NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge). Sarah led the training command readiness of the company consisting of over 270 soldiers.
Moving from Big Pharma to Medical Cannabis
Sarah was discharged from the military due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). That injury led to epilepsy and other health issues, catapulting her into a downward spiral. Like so many returning veterans with both visible and non-visible war injuries, Stenuf felt as if she had no purpose on this Earth. She turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and eventually ended up in a rehabilitation facility.
One day, a friend well educated in the therapeutic effects of cannabis offered her the plant as an alternative to her medicine cabinet of prescriptions. Skeptical at first, Sarah soon felt relief. She did not feel the need to take pill upon pill upon pill anymore. Feeling better, Sarah returned to a more active lifestyle. She also realized that she must commit to being vulnerable and sharing her painful story. But where? How? Through research and online support groups, Sarah discovered that she wasn’t alone—other vets were also turning to cannabis to help in the fight against their demons.
The Start of a Life as an Advocate
Sarah created a social media alias, HappyHealing420, to learn more about cannabis, trauma, and the effects it has on the body and mind. Not only did she learn how helpful it was, but she also discovered other nonverbal pathways to heal the body and mind, such as yoga and art. Empowered with this deeper understanding, Sarah then turned HappyHealing420 into an official LLC focused on PTSD advocacy and building awareness around the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for post-service issues. Notably, the organization petitioned to get the symptoms of PTSD added to the list of qualifying conditions in a medical cannabis bill for the state of New York.
Veteran’s Ananda Launched to Support Veterans
With medical cannabis advocacy advancing quickly, Sarah founded Veteran’s Ananda, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, focused on integrating holistic solutions for healthcare. Translated, “Ananda” in Sanskrit means to connect with yourself is to be one with nature. Veteran’s Ananda was created as a safety note for fellow veterans who had felt abandoned and lost in a mammoth healthcare system in need of repair. Sarah made it her mission to help vets bounce back by scrapping a one-size-fits-all approach to care. Veteran's Ananda focuses on an individualized approach to create unique treatment plans for each veteran and first responder.
Veteran’s Ananda provides a wide range of services for people in their local area and community. Not only does the nonprofit provide a “dirt therapy re-set” for vets, but it also provides skills training. They encourage their veterans to help the local farming community and in turn, they receive hemp-derived CBD. They emphasize that they are teaching people how to fish and not just giving them fish.
Lifting Veterans Up
Today, Veteran’s Ananda provides support, care, and rehabilitation for veterans through advocacy, raising awareness, and education. They grow and sell hemp on their Fulton, NY-based farm where they have two tiny homes constructed and two more underway. The nonprofit is working with several high schools to construct additional homes.
In 2020, Ananda Farms, a related for-profit farm, provided eight vets with housing in the tiny homes as they received individualized therapies in quiet solitude. The same organization donated meals to veterans and first responders and offered gift cards and food vouchers to help families in need. In return, the veterans they’ve served have paid it forward, benefitting their communities with projects like new nets for basketball courts, community gardens, collecting highway litter, and more.
Cultivating Leading up to and in a Year of Covid-19
In their first growing season, Vetern’s Ananda did not produce a finished crop. Instead, they dedicated their time to studying cover crops. In their second season, the market became more heavily saturated and the organization didn’t have the best machinery to help them grow.
The 2020 growing season was more difficult due to COVID-19 but has been extremely successful. The organization now farms about 25 acres of hemp under Ananda Farm's DEA licensed hemp partnership agreement with the New York State Department of Agriculture. The most difficult growing challenge in upstate New York (and for each state where people are growing) is plant genetics, specifically stabilizing genetics and testing them for the growing region.
Focusing on the Future for Vets
Sarah emphasizes that, “their doors are open at any time and you are not alone.” Although we may not all share the same stories, it’s important to empathize with chronic pain. It’s important to express a need for help and know that the people at Veteran’s Ananda will listen.
To all vets: you have a purpose, you have a mission, and there is always a place for you with Veteran’s Ananda. They will help you find your path and purpose in the world.