Harvesting Hope Program Offers Women In Recovery New Avenue Toward Sobriety

Aug 16, 2019

A group of central Kentucky women find the road to recovery from substance use addiction can include different paths.  Harvesting Hope is a relatively new program which is grounded in working the soil as a part of recovery.  It’s a unique effort to help more than a dozen women achieve long term sobriety.

Just about a week ago, 16 residents of Richmond’s Liberty Place Recovery Center participated in a graduation ceremony in Berea.  They were recognized for completing “Harvesting Hope.”  It’s a four week program splitting time in the classroom with time at Berea’s Urban Farm.  Richard Olson is the director of the one point four acre farm in Old Town Berea. “On the urban farm we had an urban lot that was quite damaged in different ways.  And as we’ve built up the soils and increased the number of plants and animals that are there, the people who work with us to do that, they are helping to heal the earth, but they are helping to heal themselves in the process by being part of that,” said Olson.

The Friday night event in Berea featured some light and lively activities, including a live auction of arts and crafts.  But, it also provided participants an opportunity for emotional reflection.

“Why are you crying?....They’re happy tears.  When I got to Liberty Place I didn’t know that living a different lifestyle was possible for me,” said Angela Leistner.

Leistner, from northern Kentucky, said she’s getting her life back.  Leistner added drug and alcohol addiction can erode trust.  She said Harvesting Hope helps sow confidence in participants and farm leaders.

“It gave me a new experience, I was able to learn a lot about myself.  Learn more about like how to manage my finances.  If I wanted to possibly go down the road of being an entrepreneur and trying to start my own business as well as working on the farm and helping to do stuff like that.  Gave me some more accountability, responsibility,” explained Leistner

Rhonda Yarnell, who hails from Pikeville, said she was full of happiness and joy, something she had been searching for.  Calling herself a “chronic relapser”, Yarnell said that didn’t seem to make a difference on the farm, where she says everyone went about their day.

“I got to help out with what’s called the blitz where we built raised beds for the community.  I got to go to these people’s houses and help set up these beds.  They would offer me in for drinks, tea, you know and it felt good to be a part of. They trusted me and that meant a lot, to be trusted again,” said Yarnell.

Yarnell was especially proud to have her family in Berea for the graduation ceremony.  She said her sister hadn’t spoken to her for seven years.  Yarnell said her stepdad hadn’t talked to her for what she called “the whole entire time.”  She noted having her family there was meaningful because she had worked really hard to get this point in her life.

Yarnell and the other women from Liberty Place certainly made an impression on Berea Urban Farm Director Richard Olson.

“They are some of the best workers I’ve ever had.  They wanted to be there.  They showed great creativity and initiative and I’d hire most of them, most or all of them if I could,” said Olson.

Harvesting Hope has been supported by a federal USDA grant along with financial contributions from 21 individuals and businesses.  Organizers hope to grow the program to include women from other recovery centers in 2020.​

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