Gould Farm, at 100, is a healing pioneer for the mentally ill
As the Gould Farm community gathers for lunch in a spacious room, it’s hard to tell which chatting diners are staff members and which are residents seeking treatment for mental illness. And that’s very much the point.
This therapeutic community, as it’s called, is marking its 100th anniversary this year. Though the priorities of its leaders have changed, Gould Farm’s core identity—and the character of its everyday life—has seemingly remained constant over the years, handed down in a straight line from the days when Bill and Agnes Gould invited recuperating friends and relatives to live on their Monterey farm.
Patients—called “guests,” in a tradition stretching back to the days of the Goulds—arrive seeking treatment for mental illness, most commonly depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia or related conditions. Gould’s distinctive take on recovery is that traditional clinical treatments, like therapy and medication, should be linked with two other crucial elements—productive work and community life.
Both elements are readily available at Gould, which is also a working farm.
“Participation in community is essential. And then, having meaningful work to do to build that community, whether it’s cooking food or feeding the cows or going down at midnight to witness the birth of the piglets,” says Donna Burkhart, longtime director of client services and currently the acting executive director. “There has to be the ability to translate from doing therapy in your head to getting it into your hands and living your therapy.”
Though financial aid is available, the full fee for guests is over $300 a day. No health insurance providers currently cover treatment. A stay might range from six to 18 months. Gould also keeps a satellite operation in Medford, outside Boston, for guests looking to transition to life in a more urban environment.
Across its 650 acres and thirty-odd buildings, including greenhouses, Gould Farm is nestled amid stunning views about two miles from Monterey’s village center. This is where vegetables are grown in expansive fields, cheddar is cured and sent to a handful of local grocers, and a commercial kitchen transforms the yield of the farm into food for its residents and also sells to the public everything from biscotti to ice cream. Its Roadside Café, serving farm-raised foods and staffed by resident guests, has long been a favorite breakfast stop among locals in the know.
There are about 100 people living at Gould Farm at any given time, about 60 of whom are staff and their family. (Thirteen children of staff are currently growing up there.) Staff members, guests and resident volunteers intermingle throughout the farm’s operations. The work program is a key component of guests’ treatment plan; the lynchpin is the essential usefulness of these tasks, the clear cause-and-effect at work when, say, cider pressed in the kitchen turns up on the table at dinner.
C.J. Walton, manager of the farm’s Harvest Barn Bakery, says his kitchen provides a safe place for guests to practice basic workplace skills. “For someone who’s dealing with the demons of mental illness,” says Walton, this real-world experience “is a dress rehearsal.”
Of similar importance is the day-to-day life of the community. The message: a guest’s mental illness need not be a defining trait.
“The whole person comes to live at Gould Farm, and it just happens that they have this struggle they’re suffering with,” says development manager Maria Rundle. “But what we see and what we want to support is the whole person.” The previous night, she says, she had a mix of guests and staff over to her house for a gathering that featured reading aloud from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a play known for its lively banter. “We welcome people into an existing lifestyle,” she adds. “This is what we do after work. It’s not [just] that someone’s assigned to do it because it’s their activity night.”
There’s an inherently rustic element to the lifestyle, but director Burkhart says the farm is a forerunner to the more holistic view of treatment that is gaining popularity in some medical circles. “Instead of getting more and more complicated and fragmented, what we need to do in mental health is become more and more integrated and whole in our approach,” she says. “We’re not old-fashioned, we’re cutting edge.”