The middle-aged man kneels before a row of crops, his body leaning into a bed of weeds.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — His hands are calloused and covered in a thin layer of dirt and soil, and the thick fabric of worn blue jeans sticks to his skin in the Texas summer heat.

If it weren’t for the straw hat atop his head, the black Metallica cotton t-shirt he wears would’ve made for an unbearable choice of clothing. His left earlobe is pierced with a single diamond, the sun’s rays dancing off the shimmery gem.

hand holding small pepper
A hand holds out a pepper picked from the field. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

The row he now crouches before produces peppers, of various colors and kinds. The red ones — ghost peppers and habanero peppers. The yellow ones — Jamaican yellow mushroom peppers. The green ones — well, those are tricky. They can be jalapeños, serrano peppers or shishito peppers.

He tugs at a stubborn root tucked deep into the earth, finally pulling it free. With a quick motion of his arm, he tosses it aside to the mound of weeds behind him.

Dig. Pull. Toss. Repeat.

He works with agility, his unwavering focus and consistent flow of body movements seemingly effortless.

It’s only 10:45 in the morning, and the sun already beats down relentlessly on the fields lined with rows of crops. Tiny droplets of perspiration cling to his shiny forehead, slithering down the sides of his flushed cheeks and coating his eyebrows, lips and chin.

But, he doesn’t seem to mind.

The man’s name is Japeth. Some call him JP, but he was never really fond of nicknames — they take away from a person’s identity, he said.

He doesn’t work on the farm; actually, it’s his first time there. But the reason he’s decided to visit is more than just lending a helping hand.

The farm making a difference

Simple Promise Farms, located in Elgin, Texas, provides treatment to those recovering from addiction. It is nearing 350 people passing through its program.

man standing in front of crops
Guinn smiles for a photo while standing between rows of crops. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

Brandon Guinn, its founder and executive director, established the 12-step recovery program Ranch House Recovery in June 2019.

Unlike most treatment centers in the country, which typically operate under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, the program acts independently and without required insurance.

Guinn created the program in partnership with Simple Promise Farms, where treatment takes place on eight acres of land.

The farm offers a variety of tasks for those in recovery to assist with, like tending to livestock, cleaning up crop rows, harvesting crops and attending the weekend farmers markets around Central Texas.

If someone in recovery is uncertain about whether the program is the right fit for them, Ranch House Recovery opens its door every Saturday for volunteers to lend a helping hand.

man walking through field
Guinn walks through the farm’s pasture. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

That’s how Japeth found himself working in the fields one Saturday — after an invitation from a friend who sought treatment at the ranch not too long ago.

Even after just a few hours on the farm, he said he already felt like he belonged.

“This place is wonderful,” he said. “This is home.”

Japeth takes a break from the heat and rests in a patio chair. (KXAN/Photo, Katharine Vaughn)

The story behind its name

Though Guinn now serves as an inspiration to many across Central Texas, one teen’s journey in recovering from addiction initially inspired him to create the program.

In fact, this teen’s journey strikes closer to home than some might know.

Guinn’s son, Dylan, broke his arm playing football. He underwent surgery, where doctors prescribed him morphine and Percocet to ease the pain while in recovery.

What followed the next few months led Guinn to a life-changing realization: “Six months later, at 18-years-old, my son was a full-blown heroin addict,” he said.

man standa in front of plants
Guinn stands in the farm’s greenhouse, where they grow tomatoes and bell peppers. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

That moment, the Guinns’ lives changed forever.

Seeking the best solution possible, Guinn sent his son to a treatment center to help him recover from his addiction.

But, he said the treatment center only produced short-term recovery.

Just a few months later, Dylan had relapsed.

Over the years and across multiple treatment centers, Guinn witnessed his son’s journey as what he described as a rinse and repeat model — he said every treatment center followed a singular model, although they promoted themselves as different from other treatment centers.

“He used to say, ‘Dad, I already know what they’re going to tell me … They’re going to tell me this place is different — it’s in California, New Mexico, Washington,'” he said. “But the reality was that it was all the same.”

Fifteen — the number of treatment centers Dylan went through.

Yet, they all yielded the same result — relapse.

But, at the brink of exhaustion, and after many unsuccessful attempts later, Dylan found healing at a ranch in Washington state.

“We’ve got to change the model of how they’ve been treating recovery, because the way we’ve been doing it for the past 50 years is not working,” Guinn said.

That realization led him to create a program with a unique approach.

What makes the farm different

One of the biggest aspects that differentiates Ranch House Recovery from other treatment centers is the opportunity for those in recovery to establish genuine, personal relationships with the team, in addition to one another, Guinn said.

“We keep that connection with people,” he said. “In traditional treatment, you can’t have any sort of relationship with them for two years. About the time you start to get in there and build a relationship with people and find a connection to a therapist, your 30 days are up, and you’re out the door.”

Guinn envisioned creating Ranch House Recovery to allow recovering addicts to form and keep those close connections with the people they meet on the farm.

Over four years later, Guinn said he still maintains meaningful, close relationships with members of the first group who experienced the program. He has attended multiple clients’ weddings and has served as the best man at two of them.

“It’s just something you don’t see in traditional recovery,” he said. And it’s not uncommon for some of those familiar faces to show up to the farm every so often.

shirtless man in front of fields
A volunteer takes a break from the heat. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

Ranch House Recovery emphasizes an open-door policy, meaning any client who’s been through the program is welcome back at any time, whether that’s to share a meal or lend a hand on the farm.

“When someone leaves here, they walk out that door with every staff member’s phone number — my phone number included. They can pick up the phone and call anytime,” Guinn said.

In terms of success rate, Guinn said numbers aren’t a factor in determining success at Ranch House Recovery.

“Many places will go out there and tout their success rate, or say, ‘We’re 95%, we’re 80%,’ whatever percentage they are,” he said. “But I don’t believe those numbers are real.”

Guinn believes success in recovery is rooted in the individual’s desire and readiness to commit.

“We could have a group of 10, and six months from now, eight of them could be sober, or two of them could be sober,” he said. “The reality is — it’s up to them.”

Guinn defines success as the fostering of a healthy, positive community. When someone relapses, they don’t have to sit in the guilt and shame, he said.

“We’ve created a space where trust and relationship come first, and our families and clients know we are there to support them at whatever stage of the journey they’re on,” he said.

man holding tomatillo in gloved hand
Volunteer Japeth holds out a tomatillo he picked from the crop rows. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

While this might be the case, Ranch House Recovery promises to provide the connection and experience for people to develop a healthier mind and body — what Guinn calls “the place, the space and the opportunity.”

And the farmers markets are the connection to their community — it’s a place where they shed light on the issue by sharing with Central Texas the ways the program has impacted them.

“We can’t hide from this disease. We have to put it out there,” he said. “We have to share our experience, and the farmers markets give us that opportunity.”

Kevin, who first sought treatment at the farm in September 2021, said the farmers markets give him the opportunity to share his story with the public, build connections and spread awareness of the program.

He originally stayed 60 days on the farm, but he wasn’t ready to move on just yet. Since then, he’s gone from volunteer, to market manager, to transitioning farm manager — a full-time job.

Kevin tends to the farm’s garden. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

Although he’s made much progress in his recovery, there have been times when he said he’s slipped up. But to him, it’s most important about what he does following those slip-ups.

“It’s a journey. You’re going to slip,” he said. “The best thing you can do is surround yourself with a community that understands and can keep you plugged in.”

Kevin is now nearly two years sober — and, he said, hoping to spend another few years at the farm. As more men attend the farm in hopes of recovery, he’s able to reevaluate where he came from, like they’re pieces of himself over the years.

“Seeing guys come in pretty beat up reminds me a lot of who I was coming into this house,” Kevin said.

A day in the life

Clients begin their day with assigned farm chores, like moving goats, donkeys, horses and cows to pastures. They feed the chickens and goats, gather fresh eggs, muck stalls and brush horses.

At 9 a.m., they attend a group session to discuss the day’s activities and prepare for the work that occurs from 9:30 to 11:45 a.m.

During this time, clients assist in weeding, seeding flats, transporting plants to farm rows, harvesting, irrigation repair and maintenance, animal husbandry and beekeeping.

bees in a hive
Suit up! The livestock aren’t the only animals on the farm that need tending to. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

As a spiritually-based program, treatment implements 12 different spiritual practices into farm work as the program’s 12 steps. These are: acceptance, hope, faith, courage, honesty, patience, humility, willingness, brotherly love, integrity, self-discipline and service.

Storme Woods, Director of Communication at Ranch House Recovery and Simple Promise Farms, said engaging in spiritual practices means supporting an individual in however they define recovery.

They are commonly attributed to belief in a higher power, where an individual is willing to put their lives into the hands of this power — whatever or whoever that may be.

“We believe that the work we do here on the farm — the morals and being of service — are what really elevates your spirituality in the process of recovery,” Woods said.

On Saturdays, named Service Work Saturday, clients help local families with yard cleanup, assist local nonprofits and work alongside Austin’s Park and Recreation Department with various projects. Ranch House Recovery outlines its postures of service and ways to donate on its website.

Who can best benefit from the program?

Despite the numerous benefits of the program, it might not be the most suitable option for some seeking treatment, Woods noted. People can learn more and apply on its website.

Ranch House Recovery does not accept women into its program, and it reaches capacity at 13 beds. To fill them, Ranch House Recovery networks with other treatment centers in the area to determine the best fit for the client, in a process that’s similar to a “warm handoff,” Woods said.

The farm currently doesn’t have any available beds.

In addition, Ranch House Recovery does not provide medical detox to those seeking treatment, meaning if a person struggles with another substance use disorder, such as alcoholism, they must go to detox before they join the program.

The reason for this is because Ranch House Recovery does not have the necessary equipment, such as doctors, medical supplies or medication, to treat people with these disorders or who may be experiencing withdrawals.

Woods suggests potential clients to go through a detox for a length of stay of at least seven days in order to become stabilized before attending the program.

While Ranch House Recovery accepts clients struggling with co-occurring disorders, like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, it won’t accept a potential client if this disorder is the primary concern. Instead, the person must first go to a mental health facility and receive proper treatment for that condition before addressing a substance use disorder.

Understanding addiction from a parent’s perspective

Early on in his son’s journey, Guinn struggled to understand the reasoning behind the addiction.

“I didn’t know who to call or who to ask. I didn’t have resources, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

Guinn had never understood nor experienced the disease, and conversations with his son about his addiction stemmed from his personal shame and guilt.

“I, as a parent, thought, ‘You’re not working hard enough. You don’t want it badly enough. You’re not trying hard enough,’” he said. “It didn’t help him any… It was the same thing going through treatment after treatment.”

man looking at field
Guinn gazes into the distance at the crop rows. (KXAN Photo/Katharine Vaughn)

Not only as a founder of Ranch House Recovery, and not only as a mentor for those fighting addiction, but as the father of a son — a son who spent years in recovery — Guinn strives to be a resource for parents whose children face addiction.

“I love being that resource,” he said. “I love being able to talk to one parent as a parent and not an addiction professional, per se, from father to father.”

Whether it’s a mother, a father, a grandparent, a cousin or an aunt, it’s essential to open up to one another about the issue, he said. More often than not, many need guidance but just don’t know where to start.

That guidance is needed now more than ever, while the country-wide fentanyl epidemic is still in full force.

“These young people are dying daily, and we’ve got to do everything we can to support them,” Guinn said.

Texas Health and Human Services estimates that five people, on average, die from a fentanyl overdose each day in Texas.

According HHS, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. HHS said just two milligrams of fentanyl, equal to 10-15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose.

Illegally manufactured fentanyl can be found in a variety of drugs but is most commonly found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and in counterfeit pills, meaning many of the deaths surrounding fentanyl are a result of accidental poisoning, according to HHS.

“Rock bottom is that old saying — let them hit rock bottom first before they get it. Right. Now, we can’t take that old approach,” Guinn said. “Rock bottom is a body bag.”

Like many drugs, the issue with fentanyl is that it’s easy to sell, easy to buy and easy to find.

Simple steps Guinn encouraged are educating children younger and emphasizing early intervention. But even that can sometimes be a challenge.

“When you’re young, you’re indestructible. You tell yourself — ‘That’s not going to happen to me. I’m smarter. I know better,’” he said. “Trust me. I’ve heard it from guys in the house, and we’ve had to go to their funerals.”

Guinn hopes steps will be taken to bring more awareness to the severity of the issue, along with preventative measures as the death toll continues to increase.

“People are dropping like flies,” he said. “It’s sad.”

Given the recent spike in deaths involving fentanyl, Guinn encourages people to act quickly — it’s not a problem that can wait.

He, along with others on the farm, know the risks if action isn’t taken — and the consequences aren’t worth it.

“We can’t stop, and we can’t give up, Guinn said. “It’s a fight worth fighting.”

What is “solutions journalism?” First launched at KXAN in 2019, this reporting method has been labeled “hope with teeth” or “the whole story.” It allows our team to take an uplifting, positive approach to storytelling while also maintaining the critical, in-depth reporting that makes KXAN unique. While other journalists often define news as “what’s gone wrong,” solutions journalism aims to expand that definition: responses to problems are also newsworthy. Explore our solutions stories and projects, and learn more about the concept from our partners at the Solutions Journalism Network.