Boise farm offers second-chance employment for people recovering

“Growing green stuff and growing people.” This is how Jeff Middleton, co-founder of Boise Vertical Farm, describes the partnership between sustainable farming and the rehabilitation of people in the community. Middleton and Crystal Spencer have witnessed the ways a second chance can affect a person. Though seemingly unrelated, the two Boiseans discovered the benefit of combining that interest with sustainable farming when they co-founded Boise Vertical Farm in 2019, a nonprofit that aims to give individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol a second chance. The pair met at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, where Spencer was the director of research and Middleton was recovering from substance abuse. A pharmacist with a business degree who no longer wanted to work around drugs, and a researcher who lost a brother to alcoholism, they sought an answer to the same question: “So what else can we do?”

For Spencer, who has seen family members struggle to get back on their feet after leaving drugs and alcohol behind, that question extends far beyond recovery. “When we see all this talent out there, and they can’t get reemployed, that’s a loss to the community,” Spencer said.

The idea for the farm started with a visit to Vertical Harvest in Wyoming in 2017. Vertical Harvest employs individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities. “I got talking with Crystal; we decided to try to give this a chance here,” Middleton said. In 2019, Middleton and Spencer rented the greenhouse that would become Boise Vertical Farm. It sits at 5810 Castle Drive in Boise on the property of Bill Wade, who leased it to the pair for the cost of utilities. The space includes outdoor garden beds extending from the greenhouse.

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