GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. – High Spirit Farm in Great Barrington is not just another farm. It’s a residential and work program for adults with intellectual disabilities
“We live together, work together, share meals together,” house manager, Derek Eshelman, said. “And our goal is to create work opportunities that are fulfilling for our residents, and to live a fulfilling and joyful life together.”
The farm has seven residents who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. They’re all welcome to live and work there for as long as they want.
While there is a daily routine, which could include gardening, cooking, or feeding the animals, it’s always up to the residents to choose their work for the day.
“That is just so central to everything we do here,” Derek Eshelman said. “I feel like so many people with intellectual disabilities sort of live in a world where they’re not able to make decisions for themselves, and I feel like that’s just so important for our humanity to be able to have some sort of self-determination.”
The program is designed to be a true community and create a sense of belonging and purpose for the residents. But the staff gets just as much enjoyment from the experience.
“I get to live and work with my friends,” house manager and day program manager, Lesley Eshelman, said. “We’re really close because we’ve been living together for so long. So there’s a lot of love between all of us.”
Finding programs with this level of support can be very difficult for people with disabilities once they age out of the school system. Eshelman hopes High Spirit Farm can serve as a model for others to follow.
“This is a small program, and I think it’s really important that it stays small because that’s what makes it feel comfortable and doable for all of us,” Lesley Eshelman said. “But if there could be other small programs like this popping up around the state, I think it could be really beneficial for lots of different people.”