Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Substance-Use Disorder – Part 6

Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Part 6

  1. Education, 2. I/D Disabilities, 3. Prisoners & Reentry, 4. Retirees, 5. Veterans, 6. Substance-Use

As a blog reader, you are aware we are all entering a new food paradigm.  This paradigm shift is emerging from the countless small organic producers, family gardeners, and aquapioneers across the world.  New and emerging technologies like aquaponics and the internet are unlocking these growers and enabling them to create a resilient food network.

Substance Use GardeningWe’ve spent the last five articles discussing the groups of hidden farmers that are being “unlocked” by technologies like aquaponics that are allowing them to effectively grow food for themselves and their community for the first time ever.  We’ve talked about the educational benefits of aquaponics in schools, the job-training potential for veterans and ex-prisoners, and the therapeutic benefits of aquaponic growing for the elderly and developmentally disabled.

This month we will continue to discuss the relevance of aquaponics for therapeutic and rehabilitative use.  This month’s population of potential farmers are Drug Rehab facilities, otherwise known as Substance Use Disorder Facilities (SUD Facilities).  SUD Facilities typically provide rehabilitation and therapy for tobacco, alcohol, and/or illicit drug misuse.  Many also provide care for Dual-Diagnosis Disorder, which includes substance use disorder and a second mental disorder which is directly related to SUD.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance Use Disorder is a global issue. The World Health Organization reports that the harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year with global prevalence rates of alcohol use disorders among adults were estimated to range from 0% to 16% in 2004.  Non-alcohol drug use disorders were reported as at least 15.3 million persons globally.

In the United States, illicit drug use has been increasing, rising from 8.3% in 2002 to 9.4% in 2013 in all Americans over 12 years old.  To put these statistics into perspective, that is 24.6 million Americans, with drug use primarily affecting the younger age group of 13-29.  22.6% of these young Americans were reported as using drugs in the past month.  There is an estimated 7,800 new drug users every day and over half of them are under 18.  That means kids are getting addicted to drugs before they can drive a car to go get the drugs in the first place.

Drug abuse takes its toll in many ways, by destroying families, derailing lives, harming health, and costing billions in healthcare and other taxpayer dollars.  Although it is impossible to truly put a pricetag on the cost to human life that drug abuse costs, the analysts at www.drugabuse.gov estimate that the total costs of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use is 712 Billion dollars a year.  That is roughly the same as the combined net value of Apple Inc. and Berkshire Hathaway, two of the most valuable companies in the world, give or take a few billion dollars.  The cost of drugs is more than dollars and cents.  It is the health of our children, the wellbeing of our youth and the success of our shared future.  

An Untraditional Therapy

These facts laid out one after another are very sobering. The silver lining is that new therapies for Substance Use Disorder are coming out every day and the model of incarcerating people for having SUD is (very) slowly fading away.Substance Use Disorder Gardening

One new therapy that is really seeing traction is in total opposition to typical talk-therapy speaking circles.  There is no harsh florescent light, no sitting around on uncomfortable folding chairs, and sometimes there isn’t even much talking.  There is still bad coffee though.  Cutting-edge SUD Facilities are trading the pills for the pitchfork and the individuals in treatment are finding salvation in farming!  Actually, there are two main branches of this therapy, Horticulture Therapy (HT) which refers to small garden plots, and Agriculture Therapy (AT) which refers to larger commercial scale growing operations.  

Both HT and AT have been found to be highly effective at treating SUD in patients of all ages.  It is theorized the great initial results come from the unique combination of benefits that HT-AT offers to SUD patients.  The practical nature of farming and gardening, working with your hands, and the many various activities associated with growing plants have shown to result in mental, physical, and vocational benefits to the practitioners.  The Achieve Treatment Center says they’ve seen benefits including,

Mental: Improved memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills and socialization

Physical: Strengthened muscles, improved coordination, balance and endurance

Vocational: Developed ability to work independently, problem solve and follow directions

Any gardener or farmer could tell you this, but the science literature is starting to back up this long-held truth: growing is good for you.

These therapies are also recognized as a tool in the overall toolkit of effective essential protocols for SUD treatment.  HT and AT are not meant to replace current therapies but complement and synergize with them.

Long-term effects have been seen and are theorized to stem from additional unique benefits of some HT and AT programs. One issue facing many SUD patients is difficulty with traditional communication and interpersonal skills, which adversely affects the sufferer’s family, friends, and community.  HT and AT programs are able to develop personal, family, and community building skills by learning to care for others in their gardens.  When given the responsibility of the lives of their plants, patients have found the ability to train their caregiving and community building schools in a low pressure situation.  This reduces stress, improves self confidence, and fosters collaborative teamwork amongst the gardeners and farmers. This has resulted in long-term sobriety, who credit self-reliance and a communal support system developed with the skills learned in their time with HT and AT.

One heartwarming story of family building agriculture therapy comes out of Hanley Farm in Central Point, Oregon. Farmers, i.e. SUD patients, come from SUDs in surrounding towns like Medford to farm every year, working alongside their family.  Doug Lofdahl of Hanley Farm was really touched by the work being done on the farm.  “This dad and son were milling it together, and then the payoff is we have this awesome purple corn bread.  It was the first time that dad had ever cooked anything from scratch.”


Healing through Service

Substance Abuse Disorder FarmingHT-AT programs have proven effectiveness and stand to benefit the millions of SUDs patience around the world. On top of all that quality healing, a major benefit of HT-AT programs is that the actual therapy results in delicious, nutritious, locally-grown food.  This food can be consumed within the SUD facilities that grow it or sold to local buyers to establish a strong local food channel in the community.

The possibility of a steady flow of high quality food from SUD facilities in communities across the globe present a major untapped source of agricultural production power.  When you add in the production efficiencies of aquaponics, vertical farming, and other technologies well familiar to you Aquaponic Survival Community readers, it becomes clear that aquaponics and HT-AT treatment for SUD patients is the perfect match.  Together, SUD patients can heal themselves while providing a great and noble service for their families, friends, and community.  

By participating in the distributed farm made up of the potential farming groups discussed over the last five months, SUD facilities and their individual patient-farmers can create local food security, grow value instead of costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and become meaningful members of community for long after their treatment ends.

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