Hen House Hub of Hope for Recovering Addicts
By Dennis Sherer
A trip to one Cullman County farm is literally a life-changing experience for men who choose to live there while overcoming drug and alcohol addictions.
The Foundry Ministries, based in Bessemer, has owned the 60-acre farm near Holly Pond since 1980. In 2019, a 1,000-square-foot hen house was added to the farming operation. Three of the farm’s residents are assigned to caring for the 550 laying hens, gathering the eggs and preparing the eggs for distribution.
The cage-free brown eggs are sold at premium prices to grocers and restaurants in the Cullman area and at The Foundry Thrift Store in Cullman.
For the residents assigned to hen house duty, the work is a labor of love.
“Taking care of living creatures and seeing the progress you and the chickens are making by working with them is very rewarding,” said farm resident Jacob Shelton.
Another resident, Steven Lovett, said working with the hens is helping him overcome his addictions.
“Being responsible for animals gives you back some of what you lost when you were addicted to drugs and alcohol and stopped caring for anything but drugs and alcohol,” Lovett said.
The farm prides itself in the care the Hy-Line Brown layers receive from the residents, calling them happy hens.
The addition of the hen house to the farm was spearheaded by Cullman resident David Ozment, former Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, or APEA, executive director.
“My goal is to help The Foundry better utilize its land, people and other resources,” said Ozment, a farm volunteer. “We first started using technology, such as plasticulture and drip irrigation to develop productive vegetable gardens. Now, we have built the hen house.”
Ozment moved to Cullman for the job as APEA executive director 50 years ago, when the association was headquartered there. He now volunteers at The Foundry.
Farm director Eddie Wilson said that in addition to learning how to care for poultry, grow vegetables or manage a pine forest, residents at the farm learn life skills that will benefit them after they leave the 12-month recovery program.
“We call it employment readiness,” Wilson said. “They learn skills like the importance of showing up for work and being on time. The importance of staying in their work area, keeping that area clean and learning how to be flexible and deal with changes on the job. The work skills they learn here on the farm can be used to help them succeed in farm-related jobs or any occupation.”
Program participants receive one-on-one counseling to help them overcome their addictions. They also learn computer skills. Those without high school diplomas attend general educational development classes.
“We want them to learn everything they will need to succeed,” Wilson said. “We want to give them hope that they can take back to their families.”
The recovery program at The Foundry Farm is faith-based.
“I know for a fact how my God and Savior and The Foundry Ministries can change lives, because they changed mine in 2006,” said Wilson, who turned to The Foundry for help in overcoming an alcohol and cocaine addiction.
The Foundry Ministries is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Ozment said the hen house operation helps boost the morale of farm residents as they learn new work skills and produce eggs that help the ministry generate income and reduce food expenses at its residential facilities in Bessemer and Cullman.
Ozment said the farm receives tremendous support from churches, businesses and individuals.
“The drug and alcohol problem is impacting many families, and our local Cullman people are eager to help The Foundry residents,” he said.
He credits Auburn graduate “dream team” that includes poultry veterinarian Dr. Samuel Christenberry, poultry nutritionist Dr. Mark Farmer and poultry consultant Huey Hilburn for serving as local poultry experts to ensure The Foundry hens are happy, healthy and productive. Hilburn is a retired 40-year member of the Alabama poultry industry and brother of APEA Associate Director Ray Hilburn.
For more information about The Foundry, visit FoundryMinistries.com.
Dennis Sherer is a freelance writer with a penchant for traveling Alabama’s rural routes.