From writing in the United States and in Canada I get email after email on such topics as founding a charity to counselling supervision and related topics. My favorites though are those that focus on therapeutic farm programs. Now I am far from the first to have a therapeutic farm and hopefully far from the last. It was once a very common type of program but with the increase in land prices, decreases in crop prices and the insane amount of developments that were being build decades ago more and more farms, including therapeutic farms, disappeared from the map, replaced by subdivisions. Therapeutic programs have trended smaller and the connection with nature was often lost.
A handful of years ago the charity I founded was offered a great price on a nearby farm that had long ago seen its prime fade into decay. It had no running water and spotty utilities at best but we saw so much potential that we went into debt to buy the first of three sections and have spent a fortune in cash and sweat equity transforming it into a real therapeutic program with hiking trails, fields, Christmas Trees, gardens, green houses (the USA government makes us call them Seasonal High Tunnels if we want a chance at a grant), running water, a bathroom, art based programming and of course formal therapeutic programs etc. We have gone from about 850 square feet of office space to just under 4000 with more currently under construction. Eventually the main building will be about 7800 square feet including the metal\ automotive and wood shops.
As a director of such a program there really is no such thing as a “typical” day unless you simply say that a typical day is anything but typical. While I carry a full caseload of clients that I see for hour long sessions, my days also include many, many non-clinical and non-administrative duties. If you are planning on taking on such a project there are things you will want to consider unless of course you are simply stepping into a program that is fully staffed and fully operational.
In the past few weeks alone I have worked on the following projects beyond clinical and admin.
- Replaced brakes, rotors and at least one caliper on an agency used vehicle as well as a water pump and rear wheel hub assemblies.
- Repaired a water valve that helped supply water to the buildings and grounds.
- Repaired the snow plow, changed a tire in the snow and also replaced a starter where the plow had died. Think slush, snow, cold and so, so dirty.
- Repaired chicken coops after snow damage.
- Buried some farm animals after a predator attack.
- Ran electrical wires for new offices.
- Repaired a 50 year old tractor that was having transmission issues.
- Helped with grant writing.
- Continued to conduct individual and group supervision.
- Prepared countless planning beds and fields for planting and planted many of them. Some were plated with plants that I raised from seeds, a few were done with store bought plants and some with seeds.
- Repaired the composting toilet system.
You get the idea. When you are not in clinical sessions there is always something to do and you do it 6 to 7 days per week. This is meant as a rough sketch of what a clinical director in this type of setting may expect. Your experiences will vary by setting, infrastructure and personal ability. I would not advocate a person with no background in electrical, mechanical or construction attempt much of what I do and I would not had I too lacked any background in this area but for those that have it, it will get put to use in this type of setting.
A large established program may not require half the skills or interaction from a director but for those that will be starting from scratch or nearly scratch, there is no shortage of challenges. Taking on a program like this is not all challenges however. There are within these programs things that cannot be found in most settings. There is the therapeutic value of being able to be in a large area with free roaming animals and being able to feed them by hand or pick them up and pet/ cuddle with them. There is the feeling of connectedness that one can feel while conducting a session while walking in a field, along a brook or on woodland trails. The ability to watch a community grow where once overgrown land was present is a feeling that is hard to put into words. Watching crops grow and knowing that they will feed the needy while also providing therapeutic opportunities to the community is something that I had never experienced in “corporate” counseling programs. The feeling of accomplishment when you see a new wall go up or lights light up for the first time can be hard to beat as is the feeling of accomplishment when a long dormant machine fires to life.
For those of you that have not lost the love of our profession but that may be growing tired of the corporate or urban environment, consider a change of pace and a change of space. Community therapeutic farming may just be what is missing for you. It just may be what is missing in your community as well.
”Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected]
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA