How a Small Farm is Using Agriculture to Overcome Addiction

How a Small Farm is Using Agriculture to Overcome Addiction

When an individual is suffering from drug abuse and addiction, his life feels entirely out of his control. He will find that every thought, decision and action revolves around how he can obtain and use more drug substances, and he may even wish for death just as a way to get some sort of relief from the constant nightmare he is living in.

Some individuals who are struggling with drug abuse and addiction problems recognize that they have problems and they need help, and they may even try to reach out for help. However, not everyone is alike, and what works well for some individuals may not work quite so well for others. Recently, some individuals have discovered that agriculture can successfully help them overcome their addiction problems.

Using Plants for Recovery

Arnold Hughes manages a retail store on Smoky Park Highway in North Carolina that is crammed full of petunias, ferns, tomatoes, peppers and much more. He admits that while the flowers and vegetables are undoubtedly fantastic, that is not actually what the store is there to grow. The intention is actually to grow people – specifically those who have been destroyed by addiction.

Hughes manages a store that is part of First Step Farms WNC, which includes both the store and two farmsteads. One of the farms grows vegetables starts that are used by small farms in five different states, and the other farm grows flowers that have been used in weddings, school graduations, local businesses and more. However, the main purpose of the farms are to support a substance abuse recovery program that seeks to build vocational skills, encourage physical health and restore self-confidence through farming.

Residents come to live and work on the farmsteads together with other recovering addicts. They also take shift in the retail store, selling what they grow. Hughes himself understands the value in using farming and activity to help an individual overcome the struggle of substance abuse and addiction, having worked through First Step’s recovery program himself back in 2010. Hughes says that when he finally hit rock bottom, he was in a hospital and they simply told him that he was a drunk. This wasn’t news to Hughes – it was quite obvious that he had a problem with alcohol. The bigger problem, though, was that he didn’t know what to do about it. He heard about First Step, and it seemed like the right place for him to go. After all, he had always loved farming and working with plants, and he knew that he had to make some change to his life in order to have a better future.

From Humble Beginnings

First Step originally opened in 1976, and the seventeen-acre farm that holds the men’s recovery facility was purchased in 1977. The thirty-two-acre farm that holds the women’s recovery facility was purchased in 1992 from a family that still lives right next door. The men’s farm has nineteen greenhouses and fifteen acres of land that is leased from neighboring farmers. The boarding facility can hold up to twenty-two residents at a time. The women’s farm has eleven greenhouses, and the boarding facility can hold up to fifteen residents at a time.

Farming provides the foundation for the 12-step-based First Step rehabilitation program, which is led by on-site counselors. The farming provides residents with the structure that they have often lost in their lives due to their drug abuse and addiction problems. These individuals have usually lost their families and their jobs, and without structure it can be difficult to move forward into a better future. Furthermore, the location of the farms, up in sparsely populated and mountainous regions of North Carolina, give recovering addicts serene and peaceful environments in which to recover.

The First Step program requires that residents stay at least ninety days, but most choose to stay for six months to a year. They also learn social responsibility, as they earn wages for their work on the farms and must pay for their room and board. They do basic chores to help keep their living quarters neat and clean, and they make their own meals with the help of resident chefs. This allows them to build both self-confidence and pride as they look at returning to the responsibility of the normal world. Perhaps it is the escape from busy city life, or the sun and fresh air, but these individuals can find that farming truly gives them a chance at a whole new beginning.