Growing Hope in Appalachia
A greenhouse run by youths in foster care takes root amid the opioid crisis
Tucked into the mountains of Appalachia, banked on the Ohio River, Huntington, West Virginia, is a city known for coal, oil, steel, and, most recently, the opioid crisis. The state has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the nation.
In 2017, there were 833 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the state — double the rate in 2010, and three times higher than the national rate. West Virginia also has the highest rate of babies born drug-dependent. Many children become orphaned, landing in foster care, staring down futures without a way out of the cycle of despair. A revolutionary foster care facility is betting a greenhouse can stop that cycle.
Since 1976, Stepping Stones has provided youths in foster care with residential treatment for addiction, along with independent living options for 18- to 21-year-olds aging out of foster care. The nonprofit’s mission has never been more critical.
“Everyone here knows how hard we have been hit by this addiction crisis,” said Susan Fry, Stepping Stones’ executive director. “If you look at which adults end up homeless, jobless, incarcerated, or hopeless, many of them come from foster care.”
Stepping Stones’ commercial greenhouse — the newest tool in their fight for children’s stability and success — is set to be fully operational in March. It contains 20 grow towers — hydroponic vertical farms — each capable of sprouting dozens of different types of vegetables.
“I want to be as much help as I can to kids there now…. The greenhouse is an opportunity to learn job skills and make an income. This is something they can carry on for a lifetime.”
The greenhouse will start out serving 18 young men (ages 12 to 21) in West Virginia’s Foster Care System — who will grow arugula, lettuces, microgreens, mint, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, and more. The younger students’…