Drug addicts work on an isolated farm near Santa Rosa, Ca., helping to care for 260 lumbering dairy cows and their offspring. Some 40 addicts spend six months enrolled in an unlikely free program for drug and alcohol rehabilitation run for half a century by the St. Anthony Foundation, a privately funded charity based in San Francisco. The regimen combines counseling and daily 12-step recovery classes with the demanding physical labor needed to run a thriving 315-acre organic dairy farm.
Residents are victims of every known addiction: alcohol, meth, crack, cocaine, heroin. They’ve volunteered to trade in their danger zones — corner bars, cheap flophouses, and back-alley shooting galleries — for this alternative they call “The Farm.” Healing comes from helping to birth calves, feeling their fluttering hearts and spindly legs. It comes from the satisfaction of performing back-breaking chores, working so hard you drop into bed at night from exhaustion. It comes from being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, from putting the needs of others first. “These people have burned through every dime, every family relationship,” said Francis Aviani of St. Anthony. “Most are here because they have no place else to go.”