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New 46-acre care farm offers something for everyone with special needs

July 8, 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Peter Richardson

 

The dream of two young women to open a unique therapy opportunity for children and young adults with special needs has come to fruition in Mono.

The brainchild of Stephanie Deaken and Breanne Mathers, Fiddlehead Care Farm, the only facility of its kind in Canada, celebrate its grand opening last weekend.

Stephanie and Breanne met while working at the esteemed Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, where both were working with special needs children and their families; in particular, those suffering from Traumatic and Acquired Brain Injuries, Autism, developmental disability, multi-system diseases, mechanical ventilation and chronic medical conditions.

They have now formally opened their new care farm on a picturesque 46 acre property on the 25th Sideroad. The property was previously an Equine Therapy farm and was ideally suited to their needs. In fact, the pair hope to add equine therapy to the existing offerings of Fiddlehead Care Farm.

They currently offer a wide range of programmes, designed to accommodate the needs of a very broad range of clientele, but future plans entail adding many more opportunities.

One of these will be a Snoezelen Room. Originally invented in the Netherlands, Snoezelen is a multi-sensory environment in which special needs children, or anyone else, can relax and just be themselves while, simultaneously, being stimulated and calmed by the room’s environment. Consisting of visual and tactile stimuli, the concept is very popular in Europe, where in Germany alone there are over 1,200 rooms.

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital has two such rooms and one day Fiddlehead Care Farm will be added to that list.

The farm carries an official Organic Farm certification and one of the many opportunities available to the attendees, are the organic produce gardens. Here, the participants are encouraged to sample the fruits of the gardens, as well as help to plant and maintain the raised beds. A favourite is the asparagus, which grows in abundance and can be eaten right from the garden, as everything is naturally organic and contains no harmful pesticides or fertilizers.

There are currently two nature trails on the farm and a quiet pond, where wildlife abounds. One of the trails ends in a music clearing, complete with an outdoor Xylophone, made of wooden slats and ropes. This is one of two areas on the farm where music is used to assist in the therapy sessions.

Sessions can be one on one, or in groups, depending upon the individual needs of the clients or the programme itself.

One of the greatest assets of Fiddlehead is the wide range of therapies available.

Animal-assisted therapy, for example, involves, at present, several small animal species and allows the kids to work on their social skills and to grow their self-confidence and self-worth. They learn empathy and gain a sense of accomplishment while caring for the needs of the animals.

Luna, the miniature potbellied pig, is a favourite of all the participants. A trained therapy pig, Luna revels in the attentions of the children and instinctively relates to their special needs. Naturally, she expects to be paid for her expertise, with Cheerios and organic apple treats, which she delicately accepts from their willing hands.

Luna is also a confidence builder. Through the Pigs and Pages programme, she is an integral part of helping speech-impaired or learning-challenged children to open up and become more confident. When a child who, for whatever reason, is reluctant to read aloud or interact in the classroom, Luna is the perfect foil.

She will come over to listen to the child speak or read aloud. With her tail wagging and her demeanour encouraging, she will listen intently to the recital and never once correct, criticize or judge the child.

Soon enough, the confidence, nurtured by the friendly pig, spills over into the rest of that child’s life!

 

Just as “music soothes the savage breast,” so to do animals and nature soothe and nurture, not only children with disabilities, but anyone who will take the time to enter this world and learn the rhythms of a different heart.

Stephanie, a Registered Social Worker and Breanne, a Certified Child Life Specialist, combine their respective expertise to offer a comforting haven for those with special needs. Individualized care plans and counselling are available, as well as the many other supportive options, all within the relaxed confines of a seemingly unstructured, caring environment.

One such option and a passion of Breanne’s is the Non-Pharmacological Pain Group.

Here, parents and their special needs children are taught to manage and control pain by utilizing the power of their own minds and bodies. They utilize such techniques as deep breathing, self-hypnosis, humour and guided imagery, to moderate and control pain, nausea and stress associated with the individuals’ condition.

Structured sessions are offered, for families who have an adolescent with a brain injury and a 9 week structured group for parents with a young child with special needs is available as well.

The latter group teaches positive parenting strategies for special needs children, something which is a specialty of Stephanie’s. She holds an accreditation as a Triple P (Positive Parenting Programme) provider and has done a good deal of work, with children, with Autism.

One of the community-based offerings of Fiddlehead Care Farm, is the Adopt-a-Plot programme. This allows community groups, agencies or clubs to lease an organic farm plot where they can grow and harvest their own crops. The plan offers organizations, such as service clubs, the facility to offer something a little different to others they support, such as disadvantaged youth, or mobility challenged individuals.

The farm is totally wheelchair accessible and so, this offering, can facilitate any group dynamic and provide a chance to witness and participate in a farm gardening experience.

Fiddlehead Care Farm offers week-long summer camp opportunities and two other programmes to get the community involved in the farm. They proffer school visits, which can be structured to a set curriculum, written by the teacher and they offer Farm-to-Table, which teaches kids the benefits of healthy eating and where their food comes from, from planting to eating.

Stephanie’s husband Darryl, whose family operates a large dairy farm near Grand Valley, Deakensview Dairy, manages all of the actual farming on Fiddlehead, including the animal husbandry and the crop side of the farm. All of the dairy cows that reside at Fiddlehead come from his family farm, possibly to enjoy the many opportunities for relaxation and contemplation offered there.

The grand opening was well attended, both by family and friends and a large number of existing and potential clients.

Ken McGhee, the Deputy Mayor, was there to welcome the operation to Mono.

Music was supplied by Katie Melvyn and enjoyed by all the younger visitors, while the older ones were throughly entertained by Rebecca Scott and her Laughing Yoga demonstration. Should you not be familiar with this particular form of the popular exercise, I strongly suggest looking into it, as it is as entertaining as it is beneficial!

Fiddlehead Care Farm is a unique and worthwhile addition to the local community and to Dufferin County. It possesses the potential to make a strong, positive, impact on not only the special needs community, but the entire, community at large.

Stephanie, Breanne and Darryl are passionate and dedicated advocates for the concept of  a care farm and for Fiddlehead Care Farm in particular and while this may seem an obvious statement, the fact remains that passionate people can and do make a difference. Not only in those they choose to help, but in their communities as well.

Fiddlehead Care Farm can be reached via their website, fiddleheadcarefarm.com, or directly by telephone, at 647-624-8421. They are located at 426059 25th Sideroad in Mono, just west of Highway 10.

 

         

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