Restarting in the Garden

Growing produce supports recovery

A transformative program is taking root in an inner-city garden surrounded by bustling traffic, poverty, and a lack of healthy food options.

Men of Nehemiah, an addiction recovery program, planted a garden in the heart of South Dallas that is changing the lives of men recovering from addiction.

“Working in the garden is the ultimate metaphor for life,” said Terry McCullough, a 54-year-old Park Cities resident who leads the program. “Life started in the garden, right? It’s a place of rebirth and rejuvenation.”

McCullough learned about the opportunity from close friend Melinda Russ, executive vice president of community outreach at Men of Nehemiah.

“My kids left the nest, and I’d just finished my career as a tennis pro at Dallas Country Club when Melinda called to ask, ‘Any chance you’d help us out in the garden?’” McCullough said.

Men of Nehemiah offers a nine-month residential recovery program aimed at helping each man become the person God intended him to be and reunite him with his loved ones and community.

Despite oppressive heat last summer, the garden’s first year exceeded all expectations, yielding an abundance of okra, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. The team planted cool-weather crops like lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli in the fall.

“The garden is a fundamental classroom for someone going through difficulty,” McCullough said. “It’s dirty work, and it isn’t initially beautiful. But with patience and perseverance, the garden will deliver something nourishing.”

Beyond fresh produce, the garden lets the Men of Nehemiah slow down, work with their hands, and experience the healing beauty of nature.

“When I’m in the garden, the weeds are like my addiction,” said Christopher H., a Men of Nehemiah participant. “They were trying to take over my life, choking me out, and causing me not to grow.”

McCullough recalled Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, a story in which a tiny seed grows into a tree large enough for birds to perch in its branches.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “But it does happen. And that makes me feel hopeful.”

In 1994, the Rev. Louis Harrell founded Men of Nehemiah in New Orleans to deliver his wayward son, Louis Harrell Jr., from the grip of addiction. After being restored, Louis Jr. relocated to North Texas, where he launched Men of Nehemiah in South Dallas with the help of Roger McCasland, president and CEO of Operation Relief Center.

“We instill discipline to help the men be successful in a controlled environment, so they learn how to create boundaries,” Harrell said. “The garden is another tool we use to teach the men about a healthy lifestyle, which includes their nutrition, service, and the confidence that they have something meaningful to contribute.”

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