Brandi Gillen works with crops in the corn field at the Briermost Foundation’s Ellsworth Acres Training Farm in North Royalton, Ohio; Photo by Jeff Adkins

When the Briermost Foundation began offering recovery housing to women in 2014, a barrier was quickly identified: sustainable employment. Although plenty of work training programs existed, none were designed to address the needs of people in the early stages of recovery. This disparity would eventually lay the foundation for a new approach to developing a purpose-filled life: the Ellsworth Acres Training Farm.

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The Farm That Heals

On the Ellsworth Acres Training Farm in North Royalton, the recovery process isn’t like your typical training program – and that’s what residents love about it. Here, women pull up their sleeves and dig in the dirt. They learn about growing vegetables, flowers, herbs and specialty crops. They identify pests, apply fertilizers, amend soil, and use tractors, broad forks and saws.

When they’re not working the field, they tend to the chickens and bees. Other times, residents are engaged in food safety training or learning the ins and outs of budgeting, record-keeping and bookkeeping. From seed to sales, residents gain full exposure to the farming process, all in the course of a year. At the same time, they’re finding purpose and healing their self-worth.

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“During our past two years, the women involved in the program have shown significant improvements in all areas of their lives. Through hands-on experiences, the women have developed humility, self-worth and genuine confidence,” says Erin Helms, executive director of The Woodrow Project, recovery housing for women whose residents take advantage of the training farm program.

Barb Burnett works with a cherry tomato plant in the greenhouse; Photo by Jeff Adkins

Current resident Amanda S. says that her favorite time of the day is watering at 6 a.m. “I feel a connection to the earth and … working on the farm has helped me to pause and appreciate what is directly in front of me. This time of reflection helps me grow as an individual and think about how I can continue to give back,” she says.

For one previous resident, this program helped her to become a farm manager. Prior to her time at Ellsworth Acres, she had lived at four different recovery houses and visited more than six treatment providers. She is now celebrating her longest amount of sobriety ever and has fully reengaged with her family. She credits her success to the farm’s training program and recovery housing.

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“There have been 13 individuals engaged in the program over the past 18 months. At time of move out, 77% have sustainable employment. There have been 62% of the agriculture trainees who report securing work in agriculture fields or closely related fields,” says Helms, who is proud to play a part in empowering these women to reach their full potential.

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Photo by Jeff Adkins

A Team On and Off the Tractor

Also helping lead these warrior women down the road to recovery is Brandi Gillen, farm manager, who not only trains with these women, but lives and attends meetings with them. By offering compassion, structure and a safe environment, Gillen has helped to instill a team mentality among the group, in which there is nothing – on the farm or in real life – that can’t be figured out together.

“The impact this program has on the residents is immeasurable in so many arenas – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially and spiritually. I would never be able to put into words what I feel when I watch these women grow. The smiles on their faces in the sunlight of the field brings a warmth to my heart and a recognition of something so big. I am grateful to be connected to a program that offers hope and understanding. It is my joy.

Erin Helms, executive director of The Woodrow Project, with Brandi Gillen, Chris Ward and Barb Burnett; Photo by Jeff Adkins

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