A rural road to recovery

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JEWETT, Ohio – Nov. 21, 1999, changed Nick Mayer’s life.
It was the day he got sober; the day he fought back against the drug and alcohol addiction that controlled him.
It was the day he began a journey to help dozens of other hopeless, desperate souls find peace.
* * *
On the last Saturday in August, nine men crowd into the dining room of an old Harrison County farmhouse. It’s just after noon and the empty paper plates scattered across the length of the table mark the end of a hearty lunch.
At first glance, there’s little indication why they’re here. But a thick book at one end of the table suggests the reason for their gathering – the words ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ are typed across the book jacket in neat blue letters.
The men have come here to find help, to beat their drug and alcohol addictions, to get away from the places that hold them down. They meet the only requirement there is to join these meetings – they’re ready to stay sober.
And they’re ready to join the ranks of those who’ve made Recovery Farm live up to its name.
* * *
When Mayer bought a farm in June 2005, he had no idea how to feed cows, bale hay or build fence. A lifetime in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village hadn’t really taught him much about farming. In fact, he hadn’t even read a book about farming when he made the winning bid on a 200-acre farm in Jewett, Ohio.
As a boy, he’d often told his parents he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up, but they were less than impressed with his goal.
“They looked at me like I was an insect in a jar,” Mayer said.
However, that didn’t put the slightest dent in his plans then or 30 years later when he scoured Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York looking for the perfect plot of land.
When he finally got his farm, it wasn’t the first time Mayer had jumped into something with no background, no research and no plan at all. And, at the time, Mayer wasn’t even sure how he would pay for it, but he had an important goal and now the trick was figuring out how to get there.
His plan was to create a farm where recovering addicts could work and live. It would be a safe haven, a drug- and alcohol-free place where men could gain the power to beat their addictions.
The first obstacle was the farm itself. The house was run-down and the nearby cottage was a disaster. The foundation of the barn had caved in and there was no sign of fence anywhere.
It looked like a lot of work, but Mayer knew he would have to figure it out if he wanted to turn the farm into a place where recovering addicts could have a second chance.
* * *
Today, more than 70 people have been to Mayer’s Recovery Farm, which includes about 100 acres of hay ground and 40 head of black Angus cattle. The farm operates under a board of directors led by president Ted Engelhardt and vice president Larry Schuler.
Engelhardt and Schuler recruit men – often from treatment facilities – to participate in the Recovery Farm programs.
Some men come for the 12-step weekend program, which is a faith-based recovery method centered on the Back to Basics AA program.
Others come to work.
Kicking a physical addiction isn’t exactly easy and Mayer said the physical labor is a cleansing of sorts.
“You want to sweat,” he said. “You want to come out here and work. You get your senses back, your feelings back.”
To be a part of either program, all it takes is “a willingness to get sober.” If you took your last drink yesterday, you’re welcome at the farm today as long as you intend to stay sober, Mayer said.
The 12-step programs are run by AA members like Mayer and those peer-led sessions form the backbone of Recovery Farm.
“When one alcoholic shares with another alcoholic … you know about the insanity,” Mayer said.
* * *
Although Recovery Farm is still getting off the ground, Mayer has big plans.
Right now, Mayer and farm manager Carl Gross Sr. run the farm with the help of the board of directors. And they know they can do more to get recovering addicts back on their feet.
“The ultimate goal or the vision that we see is to have guys that literally live here,” Mayer said.
But that can’t happen without a local support network. Many Recovery Farm participants come from Lorain and Cuyahoga counties where they have groups and sponsors nearby.
Bringing them to the farm means they need to have a support network in Harrison County and Mayer is hoping to build that through AA participants in the area.
He also hopes to hold regular AA meetings at the farm and see activity there every day. It’s currently open to any 12-step, or similar, group.
“I would love to see the place used seven days a week,” he said.
* * *
The current plan for Recovery Farm is just one piece of a much larger puzzle – a puzzle that couldn’t be solved until Mayer looked at the big picture and realized why his life has taken the paths it did.
“God’s plan,” he said, “was for me to help other alcoholics.”
Starting the farm has been challenging, even for a guy who is accustomed to learning on the fly.
But for Mayer, it was the obvious solution to helping others stay sober. After all, both farming and recovering from addiction boil down to two similar steps.
To start a crop, farmers have to plant seeds of corn and beans and wheat. Likewise, leaders at Recovery Farm plant the seeds of sobriety in participants.
After that, Mayer said, both have to rely on God to give the right conditions for growth.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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