Posts by Brad Rhoda

Brad's Bio

Brad Rhoda

Brad is the Manager of Facilities/Operations at Harvest Farm. He spent a year teaching before answering an ad in The Coloradoan to work at Harvest Farm. He was looking for summer jobs to do between school years, but after just a couple months, he never wanted to leave. His favorite part about working at the Farm is the smell of the place, but also witnessing underdogs achieve victories in their lives, some small and some immense, all while working beneath the big open sky of Northern Colorado. Brad has never tasted Dr. Pepper, started jogging yesterday, and if he could be any celebrity in the world, he would be the old “Where’s the Beef?” lady. Her ultimate concern resonates with him on a very profound and visceral level. He doesn’t miss teaching.

Shrinking But Still Growing :: An Update From Harvest Farm

This past November, our beloved Garden Supervisor Kelly Ballantyne resigned from Harvest Farm so that he and his family could pursue some new and interesting opportunities up in Alaska. During Kelly’s time here, our garden took on a life of its own and became one of the most integral aspects of our operation. We were able to grow abundant amounts of fresh produce not only for our kitchen that feeds our New Life Program participants, but for other partners in the Wellington and Fort Collins area as well as for the local food bank. Most importantly, we offered our garden participants good work, work that had value with a tangible goal in mind: feeding hungry people.

Now, however, we do not have the Garden Supervisor position at the farm. When word of this got out, my phone began to ring off the hook. Friends and allies of the farm came out of the woodwork, wondering what they could do to keep our garden afloat. We had offers of donations, both of money and time, in the hopes that we could keep the garden open.

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Of course, I loved the garden as much as anyone, if not more. I had seen firsthand the benefits of our garden program, witnessed lives of men transformed as they scraped out the soil from beneath their fingernails after a long day of weeding. But, without someone staffing it, things needed to change and we had a choice: Either keep on moaning or get creative.

We chose to get creative.

Led by our Agriculture Supervisor, Brian Newman, and our Maintenance Supervisor, Ben Bender, we reduced our allotted garden acreage by almost 2/3, consolidating growing space to a more manageable scale. We planted our now unusable garden spaces with perennial native grass for our Jersey cows to graze, and they don’t seem too chagrined with the new arrangement. Newman started reading up on greenhouse growing and immediately enlisted the help of local volunteers to start seeds in the greenhouse that are flourishing as I write this. We built a new mobile hoop and we are able to supply farm fresh produce—Swiss chard, spinach, romaine lettuce and more–to our kitchen every day to feed our New Life Program participants, staff, guests and volunteers. The garlic is sprouting, the tomatoes and peppers are thriving in the greenhouse, and every day all of our seedlings and sprouts are tended to by the men in our Agriculture Department.

 

So, while it’s true that we can’t do what we did the past few years with Kelly here, we haven’t stopped our passionate pursuit of growing healthy and delicious food at Harvest Farm.

There is opportunity in every event if we choose to get creative. Sometimes, complaining is easier than taking action, because there is nothing to lose when we complain, except perhaps our capacity to hope. If the felon is convinced that he will never get a job due to his criminal record, then he will probably be right. If the addict believes that grace and healing can never come to him as a result of his past behavior, he will probably be right.

But at this Farm, I’ve seen numerous felons get jobs and countless addicts find freedom and wholeness. How? By refusing to despair, by maintaining focus and determination, and by viewing every event as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

So, if you’re ever in the Wellington area and want to see a farm abounding in opportunities and grace, swing on into the dining hall around lunch time and we’ll show you what we’re all about. We’ll be here, still growing.

To learn more about Harvest Farm and the work we do every day, visit www.HarvestFarm.net.

Shedding The Past & Breathing New Life at The Farm

Early August will mark my 12th year of working here at Harvest Farm. I’ve held four different positions during my time here, and I’ve seen this place and its people from almost every angle. We have had our share of tragedies, death and heartbreak. We have learned together how to push through these dark times and come out on the other end of our grief wounded but still whole. And we have also had a myriad of encounters with the miraculous, where spirits are visibly moved, hearts and souls are healed, and lives are renewed.

 

Harvest Farm

Harvest Farm

J’s Way  
Even after all this time on the farm, I am still always awed when I get the privilege of witnessing a participant graduate from our program. Just last week, I sat among the rest of the farm body, both staff and participants, as well as numerous other supporters and watched yet another man I’ll call “J” launch into a new life. When I first met J, on the first day he stepped on to this property, I could tell he was going to be one of our tougher participants. Shaved head, bulging arms, dark and intense eyes, and even a tattoo on his face the size of a baby’s hand. He was simply a scary dude. And that is exactly what J wanted to be, because he knew that if he could look tough enough, intimidating enough, no one would get close to him and he could be left alone. He wanted nothing to do with other people. He certainly did not want to be loved; love was too hard to accept, too hard to trust, and he learned early on in his life that love made a person vulnerable to pain and abandonment.

We made him rethink that.

Shedding It All 

In his 14 months here at the farm, he gradually shed it all. During his graduation speech, with his once estranged mother sitting front and center, teary eyed and joyful, he listed the names of people he had known during his time here who had helped and cared for him. He spoke of staff members, participants he had known, his boss, mentor, and the countless other members of the community who had come out to support him. After each name, J said the three words I couldn’t ever imagine coming out of his mouth the day I first met him: He said, “I love you.” And perhaps more importantly, those people said “I love you” right back to him, and he accepted their love.

 

Js Graduation

J (right) with his New Life Program chaplain, Jason Bryant, on graduation day.

Nothing Is Permanent
As one of our staff members wisely remarked during the graduation ceremony, nothing is permanent. No despair is too deep to swim out of, as long as there is a hand to grab onto that can help pull you out of it. No darkness it too dark, no life is beyond repair. I believe this; I know this. That tattoo on his face? It’s gone. Not a trace of it remains. One of J’s goals during his time here was to remove that mark from his face so that he would no longer be immediately judged as someone he no longer was, and he did it. It was a long, painful process, but he was determined, and the tattoo is gone. The old mark of the old life has disappeared. Nothing is permanent. Change is not only possible, but attainable and within our grasp if we only take the opportunities we are given.

 

To learn more about the New Life Program at Harvest Farm and read more stories of lives changed, visit www.HarvestFarm.net.

An Example to Follow

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Brad Rhoda, Operations Manager at Harvest Farm

Recently, I’ve been filling in for the Harvest Farm Kitchen Supervisor who has been out of the office with an illness. I am not known for my culinary excellence, so these past few weeks have been an interesting experience for me, especially in terms of time management—I still have my regular job to do. On the flip side, however, despite the challenges of running a full-service kitchen for an extended period of time, I’ve had the great pleasure of working more closely with the participants who work in our kitchen, learning more about their stories, working with them as they prepare 3 meals a day for 72 participants. I also get to rub shoulders with some of our amazing volunteers, many of whom I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never met before. 

Heather is one of these volunteers. I had seen her before in our kitchen but never took the time to say hello, to introduce myself, using that all-too-common, but horribly lame excuse of not having enough time. Someone else can say hello to her.  She’ll forget my name anyway, and I’ll forget hers.  I’m too busy. What’s the point?

Ah, stupidity…

But now that I’m the temporary Kitchen Supervisor, I had no choice but to meet her. There she was, cutting vegetables and laughing with the rest of the kitchen crew, obviously enjoying herself, and the guys obviously enjoying her help, her mere presence. And then here I come, running ragged old Rhoda, working on my third cup of coffee in an hour, wondering how we’re get through the day and serve three creative, healthy meals for a demanding room of program participants who have been busting their butts all day. When I vocalize my concern to my kitchen crew, which now includes our volunteer Heather, she looks up from slicing bell peppers and says this:  “We’re good.”  Nods her head at me, smiles. “We’ve got it.” The guys near her, washing dishes, prepping some beef, putting together a salad, all nod in casual agreement. I begin to wonder what I’m fussing about.

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Heather in the kitchen with Harvest Farm participants.

Later that day, after lunch is served (burgers—made with beef reared and raised by guys in the agriculture department) and we get to catch our breath, I sit down with Heather and thank her for her help. It turns out that she comes to the Farm every Tuesday and Wednesday for a few hours to help out with lunch and whatever else we might need. When I ask her why she chose to volunteer here at the Farm, her face gets slightly more serious and pensive. She tells me that she used to be friends with a young man named Ben who years ago spent some time here at Harvest Farm. He left the program early, but did very well for quite a while, making good and true friends along the way, using his skills and talents to enhance the lives of everyone he met. Heather was one of those people whose life was enhanced by knowing Ben. Then, sadly, for no discernable reason (the calling card of addiction), Ben chose to use again, after a long and successful stretch of sobriety. Heroin, his old drug of choice, the reason why he came to the Farm in the first place all those years ago. He overdosed, and now he’s dead. There’s no other way to say it; there’s nothing delicate or romantic about it.

But now listen to this:  Instead of sinking into her sorrow, instead of being pulled under by the tragedy of Ben’s passing, Heather chose to act. Or, perhaps more accurately, she chose to react against despair, against hopelessness, against the now empty space that used to be occupied by Ben. After his passing, she learned that Ben had once been a participant of Harvest Farm, and she learned how much this place and these people meant to him. She decided that in order to honor Ben and his memory, she wanted to give back to the place that gave life back to Ben, her friend. She chose to serve, in a kitchen at a farm for recovering addicts of all places, and has taken courage instead of forfeiting to passivity.

When she finishes telling me this story of why she is giving her time to the kitchen at Harvest Farm, my jaw has officially dropped and I’ve knocked back two more cups of coffee.  What an example to follow. Not only for the men in our program, who faced countless tragedies in their own lives, but for all of us. For me. Because this is what we’re around for, isn’t it?  To help each other out, to give of what we can when we can? To create antidotes for despair?  Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us, whether we’re drug addicts, doctors, pastors, or temporary Kitchen Supervisors.

And just like that, Heather’s story still fresh in my ears, I realize that I don’t have to run the entire kitchen by myself. Why? Because I have people around me who will do it with me, with gratitude, with a smile, and with a hope that death might not be the end of something but rather a beginning of something.  What a concept. Thanks Heather.

 

27 degrees Fahrenheit

That was the reading on the farm thermometer a weekend in early September. As the weekend progressed, the leaves of our garden produce began to curl up and wither. By the time Monday came around and we all came back to work, almost all of our warm season crops – the pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, beans and peas – were all in varying stage of decay. Dead.

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Obviously, the early hard frost was most discouraging to our garden crew here at Harvest Farm. This group of men spent the majority of their summer working the soil, prepping the ground, starting seeds in the greenhouse and then transplanting them out into the garden beds. After the plants began to grow and eventually thrive, these same men spent countless hours weeding, watering, and then weeding some more so that the plants could grow in the most ideal conditions possible. Volunteers came and joined them for much of the summer, groups large and small, young and old, all working for the common purpose of keeping the plants alive and flourishing. Since we refuse to use any sort of chemical treatments for weed or pest control in our garden, this is full-time undertaking, and every hand we could find was welcomed and appreciated.  We were looking good.

But then a storm rolled in, a cold front that had lingered on the other side of the divide and then swooped down on us when we were all sleeping. We didn’t expect it to get so frigid. But even if we did see it coming, there is no way to cover almost two acres in down comforters. We were at the mercy of the weather and its capricious moods up here in Northern Colorado, as we always are, as all farmers are. When hail comes, there’s nothing we can do. When the wind whips up and drives down from the northwest out of Wyoming, there is nothing we can do. When no rain comes, when the reservoirs are low, there is nothing we can do. All we can do is accept what happens and decide how to best move forward. And that’s what we have been doing – what we always do.

The extent of the damage from that storm was bad, but I wasn’t surprised. This is Northern Colorado, after all. But I felt disheartened for the guys, for the men who put so much hard work into making this garden – their garden – into what is was. It seemed like a waste to have it all gone, just like that. But instead of wallowing in what we lost, we decided to talk about what survived, about what remained strong in spite of the weather. Looking over the shriveled land, we saw the lettuce greens, the spinach, the garlic, the squash and kale and Brussels sprouts and potatoes and tomatillos and carrots that were in great shape. We were excited to use it in the Farm’s kitchen and to send it to our numerous friends in the community. I took a bite of a freshly pulled carrot and tasted the incomparable flavor of soil and sweetness that supermarkets deprive us of. Suddenly, there seemed nothing to complain about.

There is a profound value to be found in a process, in the beauty of good work, even if the final goal somehow eludes us. 

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The Myth

Eric at HF

Last week, the mornings at the Farm were much cooler. These are the days were coffee tastes better, sweatshirts and jeans feel more natural, and soups on the stove once again smell like heaven after a relatively soupless four months. The birds huddle closely to each other on the corral fences and the bees stay in their hives, warming themselves and their queen with their wings.  Another season is winding down, and we are here to witness its slow departure as we enter into fall. For me, there is no better time to be here on the Farm.

The inevitability of autumn also means that the annual Harvest Farm Fall Festival starts October 3rd. During this time, we will be getting the farm ready to welcome thousands of visitors, some of whom didn’t even know Harvest Farm existed until they came to the festival.

Every weekend in October, we’ll be changing our normal routines and playing host to families who come from all corners to join us and share in what we do.  Instead of our typical days working and tending to the farm and its needs, we’ll be helping kids and their parents through the corn maze, guiding them on tours of the Farm, feeding the animals in the petting zoo and cheering on pigs in the pig race. An odd assortment of activities, especially for a place that houses recovering addicts. But we’re used to it by now, believe me—we wouldn’t know what do if everything became normal around here.

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We get the privilege of showing these thousands of people that the men who live here at the Farm, men from all walks of life who are trying to change and heal their lives,  are not only “regular people” like you and me but excellent people.

The festival allows us to dispel the myths and stigmas that addicts are some lower form of life, that they are all uneducated, manipulative, unkempt bums who are nothing more than a drain on resources. In other words, we get to show off. Folks who visit us can see firsthand that recovering addicts are not monsters or bogey-men; on the contrary. Our guests are instead met with welcoming smiles, with hopeful and inspiring stories, and an experience that will linger long after the kettle corn induced stomach ache has worn off. They get to interact with underdogs who now have a chance, some of whom are fathers, husbands, and homeowners, brilliant and hilarious men who unfortunately also had debilitating addictions that pushed them off track and steered them to Harvest Farm.

The changing season is a new transition, and we’re up here in the sticks splashing around in the mud taking it all in, preparing for our guests in less than a month.  We’ll be ready to welcome you!

Harvest Farm

DEN RESCUE HARVEST FARM

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Buy your tickets online here.