Hi, I am Liam!

Liam, the horse

Liam, the horse

Liam is our happy baby. Being only two years old, he “goes with the flow” and is very curious, even nosy. Once, when he saw our horse Flip (a former grand prix champion) cantering, he started to copy him. But Liam didn’t know how to maneuver his body or how to properly move his legs. So, he was as clumsy in his canter as Flip was elegant.  Sometimes, Liam makes us laugh. Yet, we have hopes that he can be a great horse for riding someday, after he is trained.

However, it wasn’t until recently that Liam’s future looked so bright. He was one of the young horses that were brought from Iowa to a kill pen in Texas. The animals were supposed to be sold for meat to Mexico; but, fortunately, they were rescued. And here he is, living on the farm, hanging around with Flip and helping our clients to walk through their stories. 

Liam is one of those horses that clients can brush, touch, or walk and one that even children can safely approach. This horse is very interactive with people and very welcoming. You can almost feel Liam’s energy, as if he is saying, “Hi! You are in my space. Come on in!”

Meet Dan Sierra, our Board President

Dan Sierra, the Cultivate’s Board President

Dan Sierra, the Cultivate’s Board President

I took the Board President’s position at Cultivate Care Farms because I love the mission and I love the work the Farm is doing.

It was my daughter, Jillian, who first introduced me to the Cultivate Care Farms. Jillian is a Northeastern University graduate with a major in Human Services. She came to the farm as an intern. She was living at home at the time and she started telling my wife and I wonderful stories about Cultivate, about work clinicians were doing here, and how successful they were with their approaches. She described breakthroughs she was witnessing and experiences she was having on the Farm. 

As an intern, Jillian supported groups of children who were struggling at schools and suffering from anxiety and bullying. My daughter said that early on in the sessions, the kids were very reserved and quiet. The animals’ presence and farm activity helped them to open up and start sharing stories, describing how they overcame bullying situations with each other. Clients were able to more efficiency work on their challenges and come up with solutions.

 Jillian had a wonderful time and great experience on the Farm, and every night, my wife and I waited to hear her stories from the day. One evening, Jillian came home very upset, saying that there was a problem. The farm had financial difficulties as a new entity, and Jillian was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to stay in business. Jillian asked, “Dad, can you help?” She knew that we like to give back to the community and we’re very fortunate in that we’re able to. So, in October 2017, I came down to the farm to meet the founders, Andrew Lapin and Debra Madera. We talked about the business perspectives of the Farm, as well as the help they needed from people with business backgrounds. My past is in the tech industry, where I grew three different businesses, so I said that I would be interested in trying to help Cultivate Care Farms with the organizational aspect of the entity. Andrew and Debra invited me to join the board, and April 2018 I took the president role to help the Cultivate to grow them business.

So, this is how I got here. To tell the truth, the experience is quite interesting- when you first start a company, there are always lots of struggles and challenges, and you don’t know what is coming next. But if you’re excited about the work you are doing and the mission it stands for, it gives you the enthusiasm and the energy to keep working and solving problems, and keeping the business moving forward.

I’m in love with this mission. Cultivate Care Farms is truly helping people. We started from helping a handful of them, and now we are helping almost a hundred!  Before my involvement with the Farm, I knew how critically short social work funds were (and still are) in Massachusetts. I’d read stories about nonprofits helping the community work through challenges, both from a wider perspective down to the individual; life can be hard enough without the weight of mental health illness. That’s why I am so excited about working with Cultivate Care Farms. On the Farm we’re helping people, and we’re helping animals, too.

While I’m still solving high-tech issues and business problems, I’m also shovelling out stalls sometimes! But, you know what? Farm activity helps you feel good, and I’m helping with Cultivate Care Farm’s mission and the important work they do. I feel good about that, too. 

Roger, the alpaca who cares

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This is Roger, the alpaca. He looks very independent and unattached. He never comes to the gate to greet clinicians or clients, nor is he social with other animals. It appears that Roger just does not show his affection, but he actually cares.

His brother, Marko, died in May due to a neurological issue, and Roger was very, very upset. We hadn’t seen before that Roger was emotionally connected to his brother, but he was really grieving over Marko’s body. He was touching the body and cleaning his brother’s face. It looked like he wanted to fix the situation, but he could not.

However, time heals wounds. Together with the other alpaca, George, Roger enjoys sunny days and green leaves from the trees. He looks calm and unattached again. Yet, now we know that this reserved animal actually has a very gentle and loving heart.

The alpaca brothers, Mark and Roger

The alpaca brothers, Mark and Roger

Flip, the champion

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Meet Flip, our new horse. He is around 25 years old. Flip has recently arrived at the farm to be a part of our EAGALA therapy after his retirement. He had participated in Grand Prix Show Jumper and won at several shows for the barns he was trained in. People who kept Flip for racing could not afford to maintain him when the horse stopped competing professionally. So we rescued this wonderful animal, but his former owner is still in touch with Flip and visits him on the Farm.

Flip is a very kind and gentle horse. He is very sensitive and engaging during the sessions. Once he just walked and stopped right in between a client and a therapist during a particularly intense moment as if to say: “Don’t push it”.

Flip is also very expressive. He can recognise people's facial expressions and mirror them. So he can be good in helping veterans and individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder or difficulties with anger management.

As a newcomer, Flip is now adjusting to the new place and to the herd. Rocky, who is the leader, is a bit jealous of him. When we introduce Flip to the clients, Rocky storms to the place to kick Flip and move him away. However, Flip has already befriended Liam, our youngest horse, and the two of them are usually stay together. 

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A Boy and a Rooster

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One of our clients, a boy, felt very isolated until he found a friend on the farm who was as lonely as he was.

The client came to the farm after three months of an extreme wilderness therapy program in Utah. During those months, the boy did not even see his family. Coming back here, reentering school was a really big transition for him.

At the time, we had a very aggressive rooster who was isolated, literally. The rooster was very aggressive with other chickens and even with clients, so he stayed in a separate cage in the barn. The client bonded with the animal. He liked to open the cage, pick the rooster up, and hold him in his arms like a baby. The kid’s face glowed from within. He identified with this animal and had empathy for it. It seemed that the kid no longer felt isolated; he and the rooster were buddies. The boy got a friend and it changed his whole personality. The rooster was totally calm in the kid’s arms. He, too, was like a different animal, like a baby.

However, the rooster had to go because of his aggression. So the boy had to say good-bye and separate from the animal. This type of experience is another opportunity for therapeutic growth that is built into the farm. The rooster moved out, but the client still talks about his friend. The boy says that the animal knew how he felt, understood his loneliness.

The kid feels that the rooster was healing him. And he really did.

How Sheep Help

Luna and her son, Klaus

Luna was a bottle baby rejected by her mother. As a baby she used to live in the kitchen. Luna was bottle fed by humans, so she is quite social. When she was finally transitioned to live with other sheep, it was a little bit heartbreaking for our staff and the clients. But Luna needed to go, she was getting big for the kitchen. 

Luna is now a year and a half old, and she has become more of a typical sheep, although she remains  still super social. She loves to be with people and she loves to be petted. 

Sheep are not generally bred to be very social but they have an interesting social dynamic and are therefore good for people who are experiencing a lot of social issues within a family or a social group. One can see a lot of different personalities among sheep. There are two or three sheep that are super friendly and love being with people while there are other sheep that tolerate being  with people. And, then there are those sheep that are completely uncomfortable with people. This variation in social dynamics replicates the same differences we have as people. 

Our clients can make observations about the sheep dynamics and reflect on their observations as it relates to their own lives. Sheep give people an opportunity to open the discussion about social dynamics with their therapist by externalizing it through the sheep. This is extremely helpful to our clients who have often times had difficulty making progress through their human to human relationships.

Percy, the Gentle Giant

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Meet Percy, our gentle giant. Percy is an old ram. His size tells us to be aware and careful around him, but Percy is actually one of the sweetest creatures on the farm. He has helped one of our clients to get over a fear of animals.

The boy was bitten by a pitbull a few weeks before he started his treatment on the Farm. Our clinicians were unaware of that until the client saw Percy and started crying. Only then did the incident came out. Meeting Percy turned out beneficial for the boy - he is no longer afraid of animals. He comes and stays with Percy, touches and feeds him. It was really important for the child to see someone big as being so sweet and even vulnerable.

Percy is a good teacher for us because sometimes we misjudge people based on their looks.


Luke, the Friendliest Goat

Meet Luke, the goat. Do you know what his superpower is?

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Luke has no judgments and he loves physical touch. Like a dog, Luke follows people, shows his affection to them, gives kisses and asks for pats and scratches.  People that rarely hug or touch each other but feel safe being touched by the animal. That is why Luke himself is a great therapy for our clients who are used to being judged or feeling socially isolated, or don’t have close friends. He just helps people feel accepted.

You will easily recognize Luke among other goats on the Farm. He loves laying in the food basket. Otherwise he is always in the middle of what is happening in the flock or hanging out with his friend Horatio, who is also a goat.

Like many other animals, Luc always does what he wants and thus demonstrates to our clients and clinicians that it is really important to be oneself and do what one wants to do; don’t worry about what other people think.

Curly Says Hello!

Curly looks like a sheep but he is a wooly goat. He has big and wiсked looking horns. He could easily hurt people with his horns, but Curly is nice and friendly. He uses his horns just to itch himself.  

Say “Hello” to Curly, the wooly goat.

Say “Hello” to Curly, the wooly goat.

Curly is really sweet and he likes people. Anytime someone opens the back shed to feed the animals, Curly comes and waits right there. He loves to be put on leash and go for a walk and to eat pine needles.

Due to his unique appearance, people are always looking for Curly. They want to know if he is doing OK, and he is. He goes with the flow and does not really care about having relationships with other animals or breeding. He just wants to enjoy food and lay out on the sun.

Curly is really nice and easy going, so we love him and most of our clients do!


Tips for Vacation with Special Child

Tips for Vacation with Special Child

School is out, which means days spent at the pool, park, and playground, soaking up sun and staying up late. For many kids, summer vacation is the highlight of the year, but for others- especially those with ADHD, anxiety, or autism spectrum disorders- it can be a disruptive change to an otherwise calming routine. This summer, focus on easy ways to make sure all kids - and parents! - stay stress-free with these tips.

  1. Keep a schedule. One of the reasons the school year is so convenient is the regimented schedule; meals, bedtimes, sports practices, and so on follow a fairly predictable routine. Summer can throw our schedules for a loop, so it’s important to maintain them as best as possible. Keep consistent bedtimes, even on the weekends, and look for activities that can give structure to a day; eating meals at the same time, attending the same story hour at the library, and even scheduling outside time can create the predictability kids need to thrive.

  2. Fill your days with activities. If your child isn’t attending camp, look for other structured activities to keep kids occupied. Libraries, parks, schools, museums, theaters, and other community-based centers often have free or low-cost events all summer, featuring activities for all ages and interests. Be sure to sign up early!

  3. Grow your child’s interests. Encourage learning over the summer by allowing kids to explore what they love. Local librarians can help kids find resources on everything from Fortnite to football, and with a little creativity, these topics can be turned into art, songs, or even just an afternoon of reading or talking.

  4. Stay in touch with friends. If your child has established friendships with classmates, make an effort to maintain them with playdates and group activities, even if your child doesn’t specifically ask for them. This will continue to strengthen social skills, as well as make the transition back to school easier in the fall.

  5. Keep a calendar. Visual cues are important for kids, especially if they struggle with transitioning between activities or with changes in schedule. Put a calendar in a central part of the home, and structure it to your child’s needs- anything from simple illustrations to detailed lists of what’s happening during the week and month. Make a point to regularly review the schedule with your child, especially when adding to or changing the day’s plans.

Plan for Problems. No amount of preparation will totally eliminate the occasional tough day. Role play before potentially disruptive events to help prepare kids, and allow for “break time” during busy or stressful events.

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Megan Moran's Story, Site Director, Cultivate Care Farms

Megan Moran, MAT MSCP, LMHC

Site Director, Cultivate Care Farms

 I worked at a therapeutic high school at McLean Hospital, the leading psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, for over 12 years. I worked with teenagers who struggled with mental health challenges and were no longer able to attend their public schools. Last May, I took these students on a community service trip to Cultivate Care Farms.

 Immediately, I saw the farm bring out a whole new side of my students. It was really powerful for them to have the opportunity to take care of other beings. The activities on the farm were built around their strengths and skills, not around their diagnoses. The kids were empowered to take charge, and it turned out they were really good at offering comfort to the animals. They even showed me how to hold a chicken, which was something I never wanted to do. One of the students put a chicken in my hands, while I closed my eyes and squealed. One year later, I have chickens in my own backyard!

 Now I'm the Site Director at Cultivate Care Farms; I witness firsthand the effectiveness of farm-based therapy for adults and children with anxiety, depression, social communication disorders, who are on the autism spectrum or have attention deficit disorder. People come to the farm hurting, and leave feeling better. Our clients are excited about life on the farm: they want to know what is going on with the animals and they want to get involved. Being on the farm has meaning for them.

 At the beginning of April, our sheep Luna went into labor at 5 pm when clients and their parents were on the farm.  They had never seen anything like this, so we had a crowd of people taking pictures, watching, waiting, and cheering us on. It was awesome witnessing Luna’s baby, Klaus, being born and observing his first moments. Everyone was overjoyed.

Animals help clients step outside themselves and away from distractions to consider the experience of other living beings. The accepting nature of these four-legged, woolly and winged creatures, experienced in the therapeutic setting of Cultivate Care Farms, allows clients to discover and appreciate their authentic selves.

~ Megan Moran

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The Chicken Coop

The Chicken Coop

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Hi, I’m Aflac!

Welcome to my Coop.

Come and see our chicken coop! It is always an animated space, full of flurries, and highly stimulating. We’ve noticed that this place helps many of our visitors feel grounded and present. Maybe this is because the atmosphere of the coop reflects what is going on in their minds, giving them a familiar feeling, and thus creating an unexpected harmony with the client.

25 chickens, a duck, and a turkey live together in our coop. Each of the inhabitants of the coop has its own story of loss, or survival, or drama and then a story of victory and success. Aflac is our duck who lives in the coop with chicken. He has lost his entire flock because of the coyotes. Aflac was deeply traumatized so he lost his quack for a few months. Eventually he befriended Thanksgiving, the turkey. They are the best friends now. Aflac and Thanksgiving stay together all the time, and the duck is quacking again!

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Many of our clients really like the chickens. They like a tangible nature of being able to hold a chicken, to feel how brittle and small it is. I’ve seen girls from the 4-H who came to the Cultivate care farm and stayed with our chicken for almost an hour! They don’t want to be around any other animals, they just wanted to move chicken from box to box and see their eggs in their nests while cleaning the coop.  This type of care taking, even on a small scale, is very gratifying to our clients.

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Deb Madera's Story, Clinical Director, Cultivate Care Farms

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Deb Madera’s Story

Clinical Director, Cultivate Care Farms

Debra Madera, LMHC, BA, MEd Mental Health Counseling

Clinical Director, Cultivate Care Farms

Four years ago, I left my previous position without having anything lined up. I was tired of the traditional model of doing the same things and getting poor results, so I began looking around for something different. I had been in the field for 14 years when I came to Cultivate, and it just felt like a really good match.

I heard an advertisement on NPR about Cultivate and I reached out to speak to the founder, Andrew Lapin. The farm had one employee at that time, and they needed clinical oversight. I started to work a couple of hours a week, supervising the employee, and I absolutely fell in love with the model. The idea of doing therapy in nature with the animals was just extremely appealing.

We were rapidly growing with more and more clients being referred to work with us each day. At this point, I had only been working for CCF for six weeks when Andrew approached me about being the Clinical Director. Needless to say, without hesitation, I eagerly accepted the new position.

After four years on the farm, I am still in love with the model. Every day I see people with significant mental and emotional challenges making progress here in a way I have never seen in a therapist’s office. Treatment at CCF can be accomplished in three months where the same goals in a traditional setting can take six months or even a year.

Being with animals is very anxiety reducing. For example, one goat can draw all your attention during the session because she is feeling lonely and isolated. A lot of our clients experience the same things as well. So, it gives clients an opportunity to project their own feelings on an animal. They can say that the animal seems like it is lonely, or sad, or depressed, instead of saying that they feel lonely or need more social connection. This really deescalates the client’s anxiety to a point where they can make progress much more quickly.

Additionally, having animals present reduces the client’s anxiety so that they can talk about things that are difficult to share. Clients can feel safe and more relaxed because it is not just that intense relationship between the client and the clinician, it is triangulated with the animal present which can take some pressure off.

The intuition of animals is remarkable. They seem to understand what clients need and they can help clients to see things through a different perspective and more clearly, which allows them to make choices about their actions that improves their lives. The clinician’s role is to provide a safe space and to support the client in the process, asking questions that can help clients to think more clearly about the situation.

Once I had a client who was going through a breakup with a boyfriend. He knew that he was in an unhealthy relationship, but he was having a very hard time trying to initiate the breakup. Together with the client, we spent time with the horses. We instructed the client to take Bubba, a really big horse, and move him from the shelter where the horse was standing. The client tried to make noises at the horse, pull on his reins, push the horse but he just could not make Bubba move. Finally, the client took the sliding door, and closed Bubba in the shelter, and left him in there for a couple of minutes.

The client expressed his frustration with being unable to get this horse to move so he decided to just close the horse off and see what happens. We responded by saying, “OK, well, do whatever you feel you need to do next”. And he went back, and opened the door, and the horse walked out. To the client it was a metaphor.  He was trying a lot of little things with his boyfriend to encourage him to get out, but he just needed to take a stand. He had to make it very clear to his boyfriend that he was out of their relationship. And, within two weeks, he had a plan in place to ask his boyfriend to leave, move out and get his stuff out of the house. He said that the episode with Bubba was a turning point in treatment for him and that the breakup would not have happened without Bubba’s help, the biggest stubborn horse on the farm, who just did not want to move.

Everything that is done on the farm to keep it functioning on a daily basis is done by clients and clinicians working together. It requires our collective efforts to do a variety of different things.  We have had clients helping us build fences and new habitats for animals while other clients help us clean up after and feed the animals. All of that can be part of a client session. The actual use of physical labor releases endorphins in people, makes them feel better and then it makes it easier again to talk about some tough stuff.  A lot of clients find certain activities on the farm very soothing, because they are very repetitive, allowing them to be more mindful and more present in what is going on in the moment. People are so engaged in what they are doing on the farm that they forget about their phones. Generally, the only time we see phones is if the animals are doing something super cute and people want to take picture of it. Something as simple as forgetting about their phones is very telling of what we do here at Cultivate Care Farms

- Deb Madera



Meet Hermione, our goat

Meet Hermione, our goat. She is very sweet, isn’t she?

Hermione  does not stay with the flock, she prefers to be on her own on the outside playground. This resonates with a lot of our kids since many of them cannot be in the center of a group at school or socially.

Hermione has a corky personality. She loves her Halloween costume and when she wears it everyone can see that she is cool, and friendly, and fun to be around! Hermione helps our kids to discover that there are things that they can do for themselves to show others their individuality while being confident. Nobody knew this about Hermione until she started to wear her Halloween costume, and here she is, lively and bubbly!

For kids who are lonely, anxious, and sometimes unaccepted by their community, our friendly goats are really wonderful. Goats freely give their attention and enjoy being petted. They make our clients feel really grounded. We rescue animals and then animals help us to rescue people.

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Meet Hermione, our goat.

She is very sweet, isn’t she?

CCF Blog - COMING SOON!

Hello CCF Friends,

We are excited to be launching our blog in the coming weeks!

The blog will share news about our organization and will connect to our other social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn (coming soon).

Stay tuned for upcoming posts with stories about our farm, friends, and much more.

Cheers,

Lauren Connors

Communications Chair

Cultivate Care Farms (Board of Directors)