Broome County 4-H

Fifteen-year-old Reanna is a big proponent of 4-H, America’s largest youth development organization. She credits the program for developing her love of animals, while also honing her public speaking and leadership skills.

“The education you gain in this program can’t be learned anywhere else,” she insists. “4-H changed my life for the better and I truly believe I would not be the person I am today without 4-H and agriculture.”

Brian Aukema, associate director of agriculture for Broome County’s Cooperative Extension service, concurs with Reanna’s enthusiasm. That’s why he’s working to start a Livestock Rodeo, an event that will teach local youth about animal care, nutrition, showmanship, and grooming.

“Less than 2% of our population are directly involved in livestock production and farming, but one in ten jobs deal with agriculture,” he explains. “That’s why it is very important for organizations like 4-H to thrive. It provides youth the opportunity to develop that passion to feed the world.”

Brian hopes the Livestock Rodeo will inspire more youth to join the program. “4-H has a special meaning for everyone, but for all of us, it’s a place to explore our interests and build our own identity,” he maintains. “It’s a supportive community to help youth take on new challenges and reach their full potential. Working together, youth and adults find they can create a powerful change in the world around them, help local communities thrive, and develop their own spark.”

For Reanna, that spark started as a five-year-old showing a few bunnies and grew into a desire to study agriculture in college. “I had no idea that joining 4-H would have the impact on my life that it does and would help me grow in so many ways,” she says. “Now, there is nothing I love more than advocating for the livestock industry. 4-H is truly life-changing.”

Legacy Farmstead

John and Amy Henderson started Legacy Farmstead with a mission to help veterans and first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress. Aided by their team of therapy horses, along with a barnyard full of goats, cows, chickens, pigs and cats, the couple helps families reconnect and heal through their unique blend of equine therapy and farm life. 

“PTSD not only affects the veteran or first responder that experienced it, but it truly affects the entire family,” John explains. “Legacy Farmstead is a place for individuals and families to retreat and get away from their troubles.” 

The non-profit’s idyllic setting provides the perfect atmosphere for renewal. In addition to its caring team, Amy insists it’s the therapy horses that are the true heroes. The herd, all abused or abandoned by previous owners, have a magical way of connecting with Legacy visitors. One family, who had lost their two teenage children in a car accident, stands out. 

“The mother would hardly talk to anyone or go anywhere,” Amy recalls. Desperate for help, her family heard about Legacy and came out for a weekend. She arrived quiet, sullen and terrified of animals, but Chief, a therapy horse with a difficult past, helped her transform. “By the end of the weekend, she wanted to be a part of everything,” Amy continues. “We’ve never experienced something so massive before.” 

Gateway to the Great Outdoors

A lifelong outdoorsman, Nadav Sprague wanted to share his love for nature, animals, and the great outdoors with students from low-income families. That desire prompted him to launch Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO) while still a student at Washington University.

Five years later, the program he built partners with public schools in Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, to provide animal, outdoor, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education to underserved students. GGO’s curriculum combines hands-on, inquiry-based classroom instruction and nature-based outings and overnight trips, with year-round mentorship from university students.

Before participating in GGO, 78% of students indicated that they had not been to a park in a year or more. Nadav’s non-profit works to give those children the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature, including up-close encounters with wildlife.

Through field trips and overnight camping outings, students gain a new appreciation for animals and the environment. “We’re educating and inspiring the next generation of animal stewards and advocates,” Nadav says, “… and helping students make connections between themselves, the environment, and wildlife.”

Carl E. Dahl House

Situated on a 40-acre hilltop in Athol, Massachusetts, the Carl E. Dahl House represents a departure from traditional approaches to substance abuse recovery. Here, residents learn to care for livestock and reconnect with the earth, while also receiving clinical support and recovery education.

Patients still receive individual counseling, group counseling and develop individual treatment plans, just as they would in another program. However, instead of sitting in classrooms or on therapists’ couches, these sessions happen in barns and pastures. As a result, the unique therapeutic farming program facilitates healing in a setting that feels more like a large family than a sterile clinic-based recovery program.

“The animals on the farm are the secret ingredient in our equation,” says Katie Follett, the therapeutic farm coordinator for the Dahl House. “Our animals don’t judge. They make no assumptions and have no interest in the mistakes a person has made in the past. Instead, they seek companionship and love.”

Purpose is built into every day, as residents combine counseling sessions with daily farm responsibilities. Farm staff provides all the necessary training and support, enabling clients to go to bed each night with a sense of accomplishment.

“Tasks that at first look like chores such as feeding, watering, grooming, and walking soon become expressions of empathy and compassion for another living being,” Katie explains. “Our animals play a vital role in helping our patients rediscover their self-worth as together they learn how to depend on each other.”

Like any working farm, at the Dahl House there are no days off. “It’s great practice for a person in recovery,” Katie insists. “Just as the farm and animals need care in rain, snow, or blistering heat, people in recovery must work their program every day, no matter what.”

Simple Sparrow Care Farm

Eight years ago, Jamie Tanner and her husband Eric purchased a small farm, intent on giving their children the experience of learning, growing and healing surrounded by animals. It turns out, many local families wanted the same thing, so in December 2017, Simple Sparrow Care Farm was born.

While relatively few care farms currently operate in the U.S., they are common in other parts of the world, especially Europe. Like the name implies, these farms tap into therapeutic agricultural practices to facilitate healing. At Simple Sparrow, guests learn to care for land, gardens and animals. Along the way, they become better equipped to care for themselves and others.

“Animals have an innate ability to accept, comfort and calm us,” Jamie explains. “This ability lends itself to healing psychological traumas.” Equally important, the life skills learned at the farm extend well beyond the barnyard gate, vividly underscoring the importance of kindness, gentleness and self-control and empowering individuals to nurture positive relationships and leave toxic ones behind.

“We are here for a purpose: to care for the earth and all the animals that live here with us,” Jamie says. “When we help another creature live up to their full potential, we live up to ours as well.”

Fellinlove Farm

Cheryl Kaletka started Fellinlove Farm for her daughters, who both have serious health issues. She wanted a place where they could learn about work and responsibility, practice socialization and just have fun. As she watched her daughters thrive, and as the Fellinlove Farm animal community grew, the Kaletka family decided to share their unique farm setting with others.

“Opening the farm to our volunteers and guests has allowed us to share the intense joy experienced from connecting with these amazing, diverse creatures,” Cheryl explains. Visitors have a chance to meet pigs, goats, cows, horses, donkeys, llamas, dogs, cats, bunnies and more.

Make no mistake, this is no ordinary petting zoo. Drawing on her experience as an early childhood special education professor and teacher, Cheryl created educational programs that allow guests of all ages and needs to enjoy the farm and its many animals. By far, the most popular is the farm’s adaptive field trip program.

In devising the program, Cheryl worked to make the farm and its many animals accessible to all. For those who struggle with anxiety in new environments, Fellinlove Farm offers an interactive virtual tour, enabling guests to see a “preview” before their planned visit. Wheelchair-friendly paths open the farm to guests with mobility issues. Plus, each adaptive field trip is tailored to the group’s unique needs, taking into account preferred learning styles, impairments, emotional and behavioral concerns, and more.

Cheryl’s commitment to inclusivity, aided by the farm’s 150 animal ambassadors, has made Fellinlove Farm a popular destination for school groups, families, and senior care facilities throughout western Michigan. “Through hands-on interactions with our gentle animals, we provide dynamic experiences for people of all ages and abilities,” she explains. “These intimate, individualized animal-human connections promote social, physical, mental and emotional benefits – and they’re a whole lot of fun, too.”

Better Piggies Rescue

People fall in love with cute, little potbellied pig babies, but they often don’t realize they may weigh up to 200 pounds at maturity. Overwhelmed and unprepared, Danielle Betterman, director of Better Piggies Rescue, says many pig owners simply abandon their no longer teacup-sized pets.

“On average, we receive 15-20 surrender requests every week, and another 6-8 rescue calls every month for pigs that have been dumped by their owners,” she explains.

It’s this overwhelming need that drove Danielle to launch the Arizona non-profit. “Piggies are my passion,” she says. “They are beautiful, smart and understanding creatures that deserve love and respect.” The dedicated volunteers who help care for the rescue’s potbellied residents share her appreciation.

Take Cam, a retired veterinary technician and devoted potbellied pig owner. “Seeing the pigs that come in that were abused or neglected, then being able to help rehabilitate them has been one of the joys of my life,” she says. Without question, pigs like Hope, Ally and Gandalf, who were all found abandoned on the streets, are equally grateful.

“These animals don’t have a voice,” Cam adds, “but at Better Piggies, every pig is treated like family and loved unconditionally.”