Ex-Drug Dealer Turns Over 'A New Leaf' as a Hard-Working Farmer,
Market Vendor and Mentor
Ever heard of him? Neither had I...until I read a true story written by Molly Hayes and published in The Hamilton Spectator April 16, 2015. Heroes are not always people with recognized names. Recently, I noticed a couple TV commercials depicting a mother hugging her daughter and father hugging his son about an achievement. The message given by each was, “I may not be your hero...but I Am His/Hers!”
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength
to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Josh Garrick figured he'd be dead by now...or at the very least, back in jail. If you'd asked him 10, even 5 years ago, he'd have said the last place he expected to be at age 28 was on a farm. “Things work out funny like that,” he says, as he trudges through the mud at A New Leaf Farm in Mount Hope...a few kilometres south of Hamilton. There's lots to do: the soil in the garden needs turning...and there are eggs to be collected. His first stop is the pig pen...the fence is still busted after the pigs broke out last week. “Redneck innovation,” he laughs, yelling over the chorus of chickens, ducks, guinea hens and turkeys roaming the grass.
Garrick first moved to his family's Chippewa Road West farm when he was 13. His mom, Cathy Ozols, had grown up there, back when it was Queensland dairy farm...and bought it after her father's death so it would stay in the family. She was happy to get Josh out of the city! “We moved him to keep him out of trouble...ha!” she says. “It didn't work,” she says. He hated country life and at age 16 he moved out...back to downtown Hamilton and then to London, Ontario, where at the top of his game, he was wholesaling cocaine and OxyContin...a 'business' where he saw more than one friend killed and found himself in and out of jail.
But when he got out of jail for the last time three years ago at age 25, he decided he was done getting into trouble. “I went crazy. This farm...saved my life,” Garrick says. He didn't have a choice at first. His mom had bailed him out and he had to live with her there as part of his release conditions. But, committed to learning the ropes, he did an internship at a farm in Plantagenet, Ontario that his mom says was visibly 'life-changing.'
Before he went to jail that last time, he'd enrolled in 'Business Administration' at Mohawk College where he came up with a business plan for a farm as part of a school project...however, he was arrested before he could finish the program. But as he sat in a jail cell, he thought more about it. He even came up with a new name for the family farm: A New Leaf Farm.
“This was my new leaf,” he explained, waving at the 97 acres surrounding him...and he hoped it could be for others too. “Not just criminals, just anyone who's having a rough time...there's only so much to do here, but if we can afford to take someone on, it's a perfect place to relax and your head straight.”
He's not making nearly the same money he did selling drugs.
“I'm looking to find peace ~ more than I'm looking for money.”
Last year, a guy Josh knew who'd been having some trouble, came to work at the farm in exchange for a place to stay. And a student from Mohawk worked there for a summer while dealing with depression.
“When I moved back to the farm I always, in the back of my head, had thought, 'Oh maybe we'll run a camp or something'...we are so blessed to have this place that we need to share it. David Lane, executive director of Hamilton's John Howard Society applauds the idea of helping those in need of a second chance...who believes that's a good initiative, no matter what scale it's on.
This year, the farm has been a refuge for Christina Adkin-Smithers and her three boys. “All my boys have a form of autism. There are very few places we get to go where we are invited back a second time,” she says. But 'A New Leaf' was one of those places...and this summer, her family has partnered with Josh's family to run the gardens: sharing the earnings they bring in from farmers' markets. On Monday, she smiles as Josh shows Jacob,18 and Billy, 20 how to throw down hay for the pigs and move cattle. “I don't care what your past is,” she says. Josh has a good heart...my son has had a full-on freakout and Josh still asks, “So, when are you coming back next?”
Selling their produce at the markets is one of Garrick's favourite parts of being a farmer ~ though even he laughs at the idea of an ex-con selling homemade preserves at the Ancaster Farmers' Market.
He's a big guy, with big tattoos ~ when his head's shaved you can see the literal scars from his past, he says. He's open with customers about his story and says people have been nothing but supportive. He also volunteers with Liberty for Youth as a mentor for at-risk-youth ~ a program he, himself utilized just a few years ago.
Executive Director, Frederick Dryden praises Garrick for his turnaround and for sticking around to help other kids. He also praises Cathy Ozols, his mom, for being so committed to seeing her son succeed.
“It was an amazing journey to see him evolve and embrace
a whole different way of life,” she says.
“I look at him now when he's all dressed up in his farming gear
and I see my dad. Even in the way he moves and the way he talks.
It's very cool!”
* * * * * * *
Josh Garrick truly is an Unsung Hero!
A sizeable colour photo taken by Barry Gray shows Josh, donned with farm boots, t-shirt, knee length red and block shorts...his white cap tipped off his head onto the farm field as he strongly rope-tugs an unwilling Butterfly, a Jersey brown cow, who obstinately refuses to move into an outdoor enclosure.
A second black and white shot pictures Josh providing water for his pigs inside a fenced enclosure.
The final black and white 'says it all'!
Our handsome young farmer, smiling with great pleasure ~
holding an affectionate kid (baby goat) as it nuzzles his face.
A farmer is a man...outstanding in his field.
(an old cliché)
Merle Baird-Kerr...written April 17, 2015