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Planting recovery

February 1, 2009
by Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
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A therapeutic farm offers residents a tranquil place to learn the value of work and community

The campus of hopewell in mesopotamia, ohio

The campus of Hopewell in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Photo by Molly Nook

Just about everyone agrees that there is something peaceful about the countryside. Being surrounded by long, verdant expanses away from the constant din of modern life offers a refreshing change of pace for folks used to cities, suburbs, and exurbs, and for some such tranquility perhaps even can be therapeutic.

Gordon, a hopewell resident, participates in the work of the garden

Gordon, a Hopewell resident, participates in the work of the garden. Photo by Molly Nook
That's the concept behind Hopewell, a therapeutic farming community in Northeast Ohio for adults with major mental illnesses. Located on more than 300 acres, Hopewell is in the heart of the area's Amish community, yet is only an hour's drive from downtown Cleveland. In addition to enjoying the calming surroundings, residents can have daily interactions with pigs, sheep, horses, cattle, and other animals, as well as work in flower and vegetable gardens. The ultimate goal is to give residents, many of whom have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression, an opportunity to heal in a restful environment while learning the importance of work and community.

“Work is considered a key element to the recovery process for our model. People feel reward and return on their efforts in seeing a job well done,” says Richard R. Karges, LISW, ACSW, Hopewell's executive director since October 2007. “We see people really growing through the work experience.”

The seed

Therapeutic farming communities have roots in the 18th century.

In 1792, Quaker merchant William Tuke founded a “retreat asylum” in Liverpool, England. The retreat was modeled after a simple family farm and focused on emotional and spiritual recovery instead of restraints and punishment. Tuke combined this “moral” treatment with the Quakers' emphasis on a homelike setting, garden walks, reading, sewing, and good food.

After spending more than a year at the retreat, American Dorothea Dix was inspired to advocate for more humane conditions for people with mental illness. Although similar retreats did open in the United States at Dix's urging, by the late 19th century medically oriented state institutions were replacing them.1

Yet the concept didn't disappear. In 1913, William J. Gould founded Gould Farm in Monterey, Massachusetts, now the oldest therapeutic farm community in the country. According to Cory Loder, Gould Farm's program director, Gould was influenced by the moral treatment movement, his interest in creating an “intentional” community, and his religious convictions. Decades after its founding, one man's stay at Gould Farm planted the seed for Hopewell's development.

In the 1980s, a mentally ill family member of Cleveland-area philanthropist Clara T. Rankin stayed at Gould Farm. She was so impressed by how the experience changed him that she decided Northeast Ohio needed a therapeutic farming community. Rankin assembled a board of directors and purchased a farm that also had been a bed-and-breakfast, and in 1996 Hopewell admitted its first resident. Most of Hopewell's residents have come from six counties in Northeast Ohio.

A place to learn and recover

A hopewell volunteer harvests the community garden

A Hopewell volunteer harvests the community garden. Photo by Molly Nook
Hopewell is quite different from traditional behavioral healthcare organizations, even residential treatment providers. One of the most dramatic examples is how long residents stay at Hopewell, which can accommodate 38 adult residents (there is a short waiting list). The recommended minimal stay is 3 to 12 months, and some residents have stayed several years. If someone is interested in Hopewell but can't make a site visit, Hopewell's admissions manager will visit him/her at home to make an assessment (Potential residents cannot have an active addiction, violent or suicidal behavior, or a history of sexual misconduct).

Hopewell has a sliding fee scale of between $150 and 250 per day based on a family's financial status, although more than 90% of residents receive financial assistance (totaling $899,000 in 2007). Hopewell does have government payers, including the VA; Illinois State Board of Education; Ohio county boards of mental health, county boards of mental retardation/developmental disabilities, and child/family service agencies; and the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Hopewell notes that its fees are less than half of state hospitals' and as little as 15% of private hospitals' charges.

During their stay, residents participate in daily kitchen, grounds, cleaning, garden, and farm crews. The farmland actually is cultivated by Amish farmers who share the bounty with Hopewell, and about 75% of the food served to residents, including meat, comes from the property.

Hopewell residents can swim and fish on the property
Hopewell residents can swim and fish on the property. Photo by Molly Nook