Main Street News

High Spirit Community Farm provides residential farm living for adults with intellectual disabilities

By Published On: July 2nd, 2024

High Spirit Community Farm is a therapeutic residential and farm-based work program for adults with intellectual disabilities in Great Barrington, MA.

The organization was founded back in 2014 when parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities were struggling to find placement for their children after they aged out of other residential programs in the area. At High Spirit, they were looking to build a program that “provided a community approach to care,” said Justin Roccabruna, the agency director for High Spirit Community Farm.

High Spirit started out in an old B&B with nine bedrooms. The first house included a family of caregivers with two young children, three long-term volunteers, and four residents with disabilities. It was wonderful chaos. Since then, High Spirit has grown to include three houses with a total of seven residents. 

They operate under a shared living model, which means that the residents share homes with their caregivers and receive support throughout their daily routine including meals, activities, and household tasks. The three houses are all adjacent properties so that residents can move safely across the five acres and between activities and households. It is truly a shared living and working community. 

Since starting, High Spirit has added a greenhouse program so that the residents can grow vegetables throughout the winter months. They also converted the barn on the property to be a multi-use space for meetings, community meals, movement and arts activities, and a general communal space that can hold the whole community. 

During the day, the residents are able to take part in working on the farm by taking care of the gardens, raised beds, greenhouse plants, animals, and composting, among other regular farm tasks in the morning. 

In the afternoon, residents go out in the community and take part in a variety of activities, some of which include horseback riding, taking music, dance, and painting classes, and participating in arts programs with Community Access to the Arts in Great Barrington. 

In between the morning and afternoon activities, residents also enjoy a community lunch that they prepare, cook, and eat together. 

“These individuals have had so many challenges in their lives and having a place where they can thrive is really rewarding,” Justin said. “It creates the best opportunity for them to be peaceful and happy and have a sense of community.” 

Connecting with the land 

Justin shared that working with the land gives High Spirit’s residents a great sense of connection with their environment and that many residents have grown fond of carrying out certain activities around the farm. 

“For example, one of our individuals has a great appreciation for using the wheelbarrow. He takes great pride in moving mulch into different beds and it gives him great joy and a sense of accomplishment that he’s contributing to the land.” 

Working outdoors also provides a peaceful setting for the residents and helps to alleviate some of the stressors of typical daily living. 

“That’s the focus that we generate,” Justin shared. “A place where they have the autonomy to do activities that they take pride in. It’s more about the connection and the calm setting that it provides. It’s less about producing and growing any material – that isn’t the primary goal. The process and their comfort is the goal.” 

A roadmap for other organizations

Currently, High Spirit is creating a system of support for other people who are looking to replicate their residential living model. They have a program called High Spirit Advisory, which is dedicated to helping parents of special needs children approaching adulthood.

The advisory program aims to demonstrate the success of the High Spirit residential model and provide an opportunity for other organizations to utilize a similar model 

Additionally, they recently premiered a documentary, titled “Raising Bar,” about the challenges of finding appropriate placement for their children when they age out of state-provided services. The documentary features Bob and Ginny Swain, who are also founding members of High Spirit Community Farm, and the struggles they endured when searching for services for their son, Bar. 

“We’re looking to create a system of support and showcasing that this program is replicable. We want to connect with people who are looking to do something similar to this elsewhere,” Justin said. “We’re trying to do the best for the individuals in our care and we hope that others can see that this is a spotlight of opportunity for people to do similar work.”

To learn more about High Spirit Community Farm, visit their website here. To learn more about the High Spirit Advisory Board, visit their website here