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Farming vertically in Boise

Garden master Jim Duthie explains on "You Can Grow It" how rebuilding damaged lives goes hand-in-hand with growing vegetables.

BOISE, Idaho — There are many small farms and gardens in the Boise area growing fresh produce for farmers markets or local restaurants, but there are few making as big an impact as the Boise vertical farm.

Garden master Jim Duthie explains on "You Can Grow It" how rebuilding damaged lives goes hand-in-hand with growing vegetables.

At Boise Vertical Farm, you will find all kinds of produce being grown for sale, but this is not your typical farm operation. It also helps to rebuild lives.

“We’re a non-profit," Jeff Middleton, director for the Boise Vertical Farm said. "We employ people in recovery from drugs and alcohol.”

The farm started our as a hydroponic operation that grows produce in soil-less growing towers. 

“You’ll notice as you walk around that right now we don’t really have anything that qualifies as vertical," Jeff said. "We’re remodeling in order to put in more towers.”

The in-ground garden produces tomatoes, peppers, squash, herbs, and many other vegetables. In the nearby greenhouse, even more plants are grown. 

Some local produce growers have partnered with Boise Vertical Farm to grow other things, like lettuce, which is sold to area restaurants and caterers, as well as at farmers markets and online.

The produce sales support the main mission of Boise Vertical Farm, which is to help people recover from drug and alcohol dependency.

“Well, our mission, the reason for us being, is in support of people in recovery from drugs and alcohol," Jeff said. "That’s why we’re here. We’re able to support a lot of our operating costs through the produce end of our business.”

Boise Vertical Farm works with individuals from the Ada County Court system and the Idaho Department of Corrections and help them to work off their community service hours as part of their sentence.

“We put people to work in our greenhouses. We have a woodshop where we build planter boxes and herb boxes,” Jeff said, “the major problem with coming through recovery —  if you have a drug record, it’s impossible to get hired, it’s very hard to find jobs. We have a partnership with employers around the valley who will accept people in recovery, people who have drug charges and who have a record. They will hire them. So we get together with our partners and we do what we can to help people stay clean and to move on with their lives.”

In the greenhouse, patrons work with volunteers to grow vegetables, herbs and to fill produce orders. The program appears to be working.

“So far this year, October through September, we’ve provided over 800 hours of community service to people. We have taken in over 30 people from the court system and Idaho Department of Corrections. Success rate is around 80 percent. We’ve only had two relapses in that whole time. Compared to national figures we are very successful. We’ve done very well.”

Next week, Boise Vertical Farm will host its second annual fall festival as a fundraiser to help reach its expansion goals. There will be live music, food and of course, fresh produce for sale.

“So we have a lot on the horizon. We have a lot of building to do. We’re expanding at all of our greenhouses and growing operations, so we’ve got a lot going in the future,” Jeff said.

Helping people rebuild their lives at the same time is an extra plus. 

Boise Vertical Farm’s fall festival and fundraiser is on Saturday, October 15th, from 12- 3 p.m., at its Castle Drive location in northwest Boise. For more information, visit the Boise Vertical Farm website.

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