Written onSeptember 01 , 2008
I came to Spring Lake Ranch last March, around the same time Marshall did. But we arrived at the farm under very different circumstances.
Spring Lake Ranch is a farm-based therapeutic community in Cuttingsville, 10 miles from Rutland. Its mission is to help people with mental health and substance abuse issues find value and focus in their lives, primarily through community living and working the land. The work program makes up the core of our daily activities, and is divided into Farm, Gardens, Woods, and Shop. Residents come to the ranch for an average stay of six months, although there are no prescribed limits.
I left Westchester County in New York in March to work here as a house advisor. I was placed on the Woods crew for my first month, and was fortunate enough to catch the end of sugaring. Soon I took on a niche position in the Gardens department running the Ranch’s stand at the Rutland Farmers’ Market. There I help residents sell a variety of products that we produce on the farm: yarn from our sheep, syrup from the trees, cookies from our kitchen, chairs from the shop. Being at market has continually provided me with rewarding experiences that have only reinforced my dream of one day owning a farm.
For his part, Marshall came to the Ranch about six months ago, after a DUI accident convinced him that he had a serious problem. In that time, he has worked almost exclusively on the Farm crew, taking care of a variety of animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens. Marshall enjoys the work, but appreciates that the Ranch allows him time to focus on his own needs.
“Taking care of animals is a lot of work no matter where you are,” Marshall says. “But there’s a good balance here that keeps it therapeutic.” Today, Marshall is taking a course at Community College of Vermont, cooking meals on his own for fellow residents, and making plans for the Ranch’s aftercare program and culinary school. I‘ve gotten to know him through sharing music, preparing meals and, quite simply, by listening whenever I can. We share similar backgrounds and mutual honesty.
Those at the Ranch who understand and cultivate the idea of community—both residents and staff—tend to be the ones who gain the most from our program. But community doesn’t end at the bottom of our hill. Recently I took a small group of residents out to volunteer for a gleaning project at Dutchess Farm in Castleton. There, we gathered peas, squash, zucchini, and chard to be delivered to local food service agencies rather than going back into the ground. When we arrived that day, we worked alongside a small group from Smokey House Center (see adjacent article). I learned then that not only are our farm-based programs similar and close by, they are both steeped in the values of community.