BOISE, Idaho — Most Idahoans living in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction would probably agree that one of the hardest parts of getting your sober life back on track is finding meaningful employment.
At Boise Vertical Farm, the founder understands the struggle and offers a fresh start.
The non-profit farm grows a variety of vegetables, microgreens, herbs, and mushrooms in a garden and greenhouse in north Boise. The produce is sold at farmer's markets and to local restaurants and caterers, but the staff isn't made up of expert farmers.
Most of them are completing court-ordered community service for drug or alcohol-related charges.
Tonight on @IdahoNews6, I take you inside Boise Vertical Farm.— Karen Lehr (@KarenLehr) October 11, 2021
The non-profit supports Idahoans in recovery by offering a safe, sober environment where they learn new skills and build their resume. pic.twitter.com/cvUqPp5J2V
"This is rewarding and I love it, and I get to play with plants and be in dirt!" Tiare Gunderson said. "I feel blessed when I get to come here every morning and start my day, and it sets the tone for the rest of my day."
Gunderson celebrated one year of sobriety in September - the longest she's gone without using methamphetamine in more than eight years.
"I'd wake up, I got high. I couldn't leave my bed without getting high," Gunderson said. "I don't want people to think back and think, 'Oh, Tiare? Yeah, she was a drug addict.' No, I want, 'Oh, Tiare, yeah she's a great mom' or 'She's a good friend.'"
Now, Gunderson spends most of her days at the Boise Vertical Farm greenhouse.
Executive Director Jeff Middleton, now with 12 years of sobriety, knows the struggle first hand.
"I couldn't find a job. Nobody would hire me," Middleton said. "If you have drug charges, if you have any sort of record, it's impossible to get a job. When you decide to clean up, that's key; being able to have some form of employment in a clean supportive area, and that's what we do."
The greenhouse serves as that safe, sober space for Idahoans in recovery.
Gunderson and other volunteers agree that having support is key to successful recovery.
"It's a safe place for us to go to, and just feel like we're worth something again," Gunderson said. "Because you lose your worth and your value when you're in active addiction. You lose yourself; you completely become another person and when you're reborn into active recovery and active sobriety, it's like your brand new again."
Middleton has only been working with the Ada County Mental Health Court program for a few months, but already he's seen a variety of individuals move through the program.
"This is not an unskilled labor force," Middleton said. "We have had physicians, nurses, accountants; so we get some pretty highly-skilled people that have stumbled and just need a way back."
Boise Vertical Farm hopes to expand its mushroom production by building a mushroom hut behind the greenhouse. They're hosting a fundraiser later this month to help make it happen.
To learn more about Boise Vertical Farm's mission and upcoming events, click here.