The idea of farm work as therapy takes root in the Flathead with several working farms opening their doors a couple times a week to people with disabilities. The Flathead Valley has seven Care Farms as of last spring. It’s an effort spearheaded by Maarten Fischer of the A-Plus-Home Healthcare of the Flathead, Fischer also teaches a multifunctional agriculture course at Flathead Valley Community College.
“So many people, when they have a high need of care, they tend to- society doesn’t have places for them, and that leads to more and more issues, and by being on the farm, everyone can feel full, and somehow, that seems to do them a great deal of good,” Fisher said.
Most of the Care Farms are partnerships with private landowners who welcome people onto their farm a set number of times a month. Executive Director of the Lighthouse Christian Home Shirley Willis says a founding principal of the organization is connecting residents with real, productive work.
“We’re a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities, but we are faith and farm based, and so our farm portion of our program is the fact that we raise cows, and chickens, and pigs, and we have garden and flower beds, and the individuals that live here, they work the farm,” Willis said.
The Lighthouse recently teamed up with the Area Agency on Ageing to have seniors head out to help, and hang out, at the farm.
Kathleen Hanset got involved with the program when it started last spring.
“It was one of the very positive things that’s happened to me since I’ve lived in the valley, and the people here have ministered to me in a way by showing me affection and love and acceptance, and I think of them somewhat as a family to me,” Hanset said.