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Why the Farm?

A Well-Rounded Program

There are routine activities naturally performed on a farm during the care of animals and gardens, but AACORN offers many other activities as part of a program that emphasizes skill-building, aimed at independent performance of these skills. Healthy lifestyles are promoted through meaningful, daily tasks performed in a quiet, rural setting and in the community. Some of these activities include:
•    A walking program calms anxiety and increases physical stamina
•    Arts and crafts
•    Sewing and blanket-tying
•    Outdoor picnics, enjoying nature
•    Trips to purchase animal feed and supplies
•    Planning meals, shopping, and cooking
•    Plant husbandry, from seed to harvest
•    Canning harvested produce
•    Cleaning indoor spaces and animal cages
•    Feeding animals
•    Milking goats and making goat-milk soap
•    Collecting, washing, and packaging eggs
•    Delivering homemade products to local non-profits
•    Collecting money from coin jars, counting money, rolling coins
•    Office/clerical tasks

The Value of the Human-Animal Bond

Participants in AACORN’s program have multiple opportunities each day to form bonds with animals, and being on the farm is a natural place to do it. They learn nurturing and empathy for others from caring for an animal. They discover that they are needed, which boosts confidence and self-esteem. Studies abound revealing the benefits of humans’ close interaction and engagement with animals. Most importantly for persons with autism and other developmental disabilities, animals offer non-judgmental, undemanding companionship. Positive outcomes observed:
•    An increase in positive social behaviors
•    Willingness for more physical contact and eye contact
•    More accepting of social advances from others
•    an increase in positive mood and affect

Skill-Building Opportunities

A farm-centered program, especially one with animals, offers daily routines and opportunities for skill-building. Animals need daily feeding, water, and care, giving participants a chance to engage with them often. Many participants experience anxiety with new activities, so the staff works hard to counter “I can’t” “I’m scared” and “I don’t know how” with gentle encouragement, partnering with them to build confidence and eventually perform tasks independently. Activities are offered on a spectrum from low to active engagement so that the person may begin at his/her comfort level. These steps may look like:
•    Observing and being near a goat         
•    Feeding and watering the goat
•    Grooming the goat
•    Milking the goat

The Importance of Routine

A predictable routine tends to reduce anxiety and allows individuals to engage more fully in activities. There is safety and comfort in knowing that events will unfold in order, and that tasks will be repeated. Also, through repetition, skills are built. The rhythms of nature and the care of animals provide the routines craved by AACORN attendees. They also know that the work they do is necessary and vital for a good outcome. Another routine is cleaning, something responsible adults do. All participants are expected to pitch in and help clean up after any given activity, and it’s all part of skill building.