Therapeutic Farms for Mental Health Recovery

This innovative initiative is a project in the making.

Welcome to
Thera Farms Australia

Thera Farms Australia offers an Australian-first, recovery-based model of mental health care that combines holistic care with community living and meaningful work in a natural farm setting.

This innovative initiative is a project in the making.

Thera Farms Australia is currently seeking an investment of funds to resource a full feasibility study that will thoroughly investigate the Thera Farms Australia model of care in detail. The study will consider service design and delivery, regional population needs and service demand, clinical and non-clinical staff recruitment, potential farm communities and locations, and examine preferences from a social, economic and environmental point of view. Additionally, it will look at eligibility for social impact investment and the specifics of an outcomes based evaluation project to measure impact.

On completion, this comprehensive study will be a valuable resource for the Australian mental health sector that will provide communities, governments and the market with confidence in the approach and value for money potential of therapeutic farms for mental health recovery in Australia. 

Our Purpose

Thera Farms Australia offers an Australian-first, recovery-based model of mental health care that combines holistic care with community living and meaningful work in a natural farm setting.

Thera Farms Australia will establish the first therapeutic farm for mental health recovery in Australia, based on successful models in the United States (Gould Farm and Hopewell) and Europe (Slí Eile in Ireland and Urtica de Vijfsprong in the Netherlands). The care provided will meet the regulatory requirements of a registered residential rehabilitation service.

The farm will:

  • Offer a full continuum of mental health support options, including residential and transitional programs.
  • Provide an early intervention pathway that prevents conditions worsening and reduce the need for hospital care.
  • Minimise the amount of time people spend in hospital by offering step-down support after discharge.
  • Perform an interface role between acute and community-based services and support.
  • Address critical gaps in the current service system and help Australia to meet its own national and state strategic directions for mental health and wellbeing.

We refer to our residents as “guests” and offer them the therapeutic benefits of a natural farm setting alongside clinical recovery therapies, a supportive community environment and opportunities for learning and growth. The Thera Farms Australia model delivers the holistic, integrated support that Australians with a lived experience of mental illness have been calling for. 

About Us

In July 2020, Liz Everard, with the support of a skilled project committee, set about establishing Australia’s first therapeutic farm for people who experience complex mental health challenges. 

Liz’s understanding of the need for innovation in mental health care stems from her extensive career as a mental health professional working in a variety of clinical, service design and policy settings in Australia and the Netherlands. In 2010, after working in as mental health nurse in Australia for ten years and in search of a more holistic approach, Liz moved back to the Netherlands to work on a therapeutic farm, a 23-bed mental health service that provides a full continuum of care for people with mental illness. 

Bernadette Whitelum connected with Liz in search for a better care solution for her daughter who lives with anxiety and depression. She was surprised that Australia had not embraced the therapeutic farm concept as an alternative to hospital-based care that is unable to adequately support people’s needs.

Driven by her own experience and understanding of the critical gaps in our mental health system, Bernadette and her son Thomas Hehir joined forces with Liz to progress the vision for an Australian-first therapeutic farm, ensuring people experiencing mental health challenges have access to a holistic model of care in the communities where they live, learn and work.

Thera Farms Australia was incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation in March 2021 and will be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC). 

The Thera Farms Australia Committee is currently made up of the project’s founding members and is expanding to include leading mental health and business experts, including people with lived experience. 

The Committee is supported by an Advisory Group comprised of individuals with wide-ranging expertise in mental health, service design and evaluation. In time, Service Delivery and Implementation teams will be established to support the development of the first Thera Farm in Australia. We are committed to including the voice of those with lived experience in all aspects of the design, delivery and implementation of the Farm and invite people with lived experience onto all committees and consultations.


Committee

Liz Everard, President
Liz’s understanding of the need for innovation in mental health care stems from her extensive career as a mental health professional working in a variety of clinical, service design and policy settings in Australia and the Netherlands. Her passion for best practice is informed by lived experience as Liz’s older brother Joris lived with mental illness for many years before her family lost him to suicide in 1994. 

Dr Bernadette Whitelum, Vice-President
Bernadette is the Director and founder of Alinea Whitelum. She specialises in design, monitoring and evaluation, facilitation and adaptive management and has worked with the Australian community development sector, the Australian Government aid program and the United Nations Development Program. 

Thomas Hehir, Treasurer
Thomas is the Chief Operations Officer at Alinea Whitelum. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Masters of Social Policy from the University of Melbourne. Thomas is passionate about corporate ethics, impact investing and market systems development.

Stuart Coulthard, Secretary
Stuart Coulthard is a Director and owner of Rubiix Business Accountants, a boutique multi-disciplined accounting firm based in Melbourne. Stuart is a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Tax Adviser with the Tax Institute and holds an Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning. He has worked as an accountant on a wide variety of businesses in numerous industries Australia wide over the past 20 years.

Legal name: Thera Farms Australia Inc Incorporated - Registration No. A0111909C - ABN: 45952690141

Model of care

Details of the model of care and service delivery will be developed in consultation with people with lived experience, clinicians and relevant non-government organisations and services.

Thera Farm Australia offers a model of care for mental health recovery that is unlike any other care solution in Australia. Aligned with Australia’s long-term vision for mental health, it takes a ‘biopsychosocial approach’1, understanding the biological, psychological and social factors that influence mental health and wellbeing are all interlinked and equally important. 

The model of care is founded on the belief that holistic care, community participation and meaningful work perform a key role in growth and recovery. Meaningful work provides a daily structure, routine and sense of purpose. 

Participating in the life and industry of a working farm delivers tangible results by teaching new skills, building self-esteem and fostering supportive relationships between people. Therapeutic farms in the United States and Europe have found that these solutions provide a formula for long-lasting change, sustainable mental health outcomes and increased levels of independence and quality of life.

Alongside the working farm, the Thera Farms Australia model of care provides a combination of clinical treatment and holistic care. These integrated services will be delivered by a multidisciplinary team of peer workers, mental health nurses, allied health workers, clinical psychologists, GP and psychiatrist.  

Clinical recovery interventions will include:

  • Psychiatric evaluations, medication monitoring and management
  • A range of high-quality, evidence-based psychological therapies
  • Individual and group counselling
  • Art therapy and mindfulness
  • Wellness education and coaching

The Thera Farms Australia model of care offers guests choice and variety in meaningful work, based on their strengths and needs, with opportunities to develop skills, form social and working relationships and build confidence in the domains of:

  • Farming and horticulture
  • Management of house and grounds
  • Cooking and hospitality
  • Social enterprises, such as a bakery, café, restaurant or shop

The farm will also provide recreational and exercise activities to promote physical health and wellbeing.

Guests

Thera Farms Australia guests will stay at the farm for between 3 and 12 months depending on their personal recovery goals. Flexibility around length of stay provides guests with the opportunity to set goals beyond symptom reduction and move towards sustained recovery.

Thera Farms Australia guests must be 18 years or older, living with one or more mental health challenges that require more support than can be offered in a primary care setting. 

Thera Farms Australia recognises the different contexts and needs of Australia’s diverse communities and is committed to providing a safe, culturally competent and inclusive environment that acknowledges the unique social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs of each individual.

Programs

Thera Farms offers guests a choice of therapeutic programs, tailored to their individual needs: 

  • Therapeutic Farm Stay
    Residential farm stay program of 3-12 months, accommodating 22-28 guests in three residential-style houses, each incorporating private bedrooms with a sink and shared bathrooms, kitchen and living spaces.
  • Community Connections
    Transitional program in nearby town providing guests with practical and psychosocial support to reintegrate into the broader community, delivered in one or more houses that accommodate 6 guests.
  • Continuing Connections
    Non-residential, structured day program for people who have completed the residential program.
  • Living and Working on the Farm
    Long-term residential program for guests with enduring mental health challenges, offering a stable, supported living environment that accommodates 6 guests in independent, 2-bedroom units that are interconnected by a communal living space and small staff office. 

Farm Community

The Thera Farms Australia community will be established in a natural farm setting in Australia, on a site large enough to sustain varied agricultural activity and provide a sense of tranquillity and privacy. The farm will employ a village-style residential design, creating a home-like environment for guests. It will accommodate 40 guests at a time across its three residential programs.

The central farmhouse will incorporate a commercial kitchen, a large communal dining area, multiple living spaces, clinical and therapeutic spaces, offices and administrative facilities. 

The site will be developed using sustainable design principles and particular care will be given to the comfort, liveability and ambience it offers guests. All buildings will be thoughtfully connected to their natural environment and surrounds. 

The farm will also feature purpose-built spaces for its social enterprises of choice, such as a bakery, shop, café or restaurant. Participation in these enterprises allows guests to adapt to the demands of working life and develop a range of work-related skills and confidence to pursue their personal goals and aspirations beyond the farm.

A Day on the Farm 

7:30am – Breakfast
Staff and guests sit down together to enjoy a healthy, nutritious breakfast. 

8:00am – Morning Meeting
At the Morning Meeting, we gather to learn about the day’s activities, meet new members of the community, and share the latest news and weather forecast. Then we set out to work on one of the work teams.

9:00am – Work Program
The work program is the core of the therapeutic farm model. We work alongside one another, tending to the grounds, taking care of farm animals, growing food, and cooking and baking for fellow guests and the public. The types of work are varied, with many chances to learn new skills, build self-esteem and form social and working relationships with each other.

11:00am – Individual or Group Activities
Twice a day, time is set aside for Individual and/or Group Activities, depending on each guest’s individual Wellness Recovery Action Plan. This might be a therapy group, a wellness activity such as a mindfulness class, yoga practice or walking group or an individual session with a clinician. 

12:00pm – Lunch
We gather for a nutritious lunch and midday break. Lunch is our main meal for the day, carefully prepared, featuring food we grow and raise on the farm.

Everyone at the farm contributes to all aspects of the farm, to the degree they are able, including meal preparation, supported by our professional chef. Food and a healthy diet are incredibly important to us and therefore our food is locally grown and sourced as much as possible and is full of flavour and nutrition.

1:00pm – Work Program
We resume our various work team activities for the afternoon.

3.00pm – Afternoon Tea
A time to gather for afternoon tea to talk about the day and enjoy each other’s company.

3.30pm – Individual or Group Activities 

6.00pm – Dinner
Dinner is another opportunity for relationships to be developed and friendships to be created while eating a nutritious meal.

7:00 pm – Rest and recreation
We believe that rest and recreation are essential to overall wellbeing. This may involve partaking in an organised recreational or exercise activity, or spending quiet time in your room, relaxing in the living room with a book or game or taking a walk around the grounds.

Evidence of Outcomes and Impact

Evaluations of existing therapeutic farms have shown promising mental health and wellbeing outcomes and measurable benefits for people living with mental illness, as well as for the communities and healthcare systems supporting them.

Against the Global Assessment of Functioning measures (GAF), guests of the Hopewell Therapeutic Farm Community in Ohio showed marked improvements in wellbeing, including a reduction in negative symptoms and increased social functioning2. Gould Farm in Massachusetts has developed a similar evidence base, with its long-term evaluation model demonstrating that guests experience improvement in social functioning and community integration after discharge, including securing employment, advancing their education and building new social relationships. Outcomes also show lower readmission rates and lower costs of mental health care, while follow-up data shows maintenance of treatment gains and high treatment satisfaction rates by guests and their families.3
The Gould Farm Outcomes Study Report demonstrates a doubling of independent living capability (from 35% of guests prior to admission to 63% after), and major shifts in securing paid employment (from 14% of guests prior to admission to 81% after)4.
Other benefits of the therapeutic farming model impact a broader spectrum of stakeholders, including governments, local hospital networks and health insurance companies, by reducing the demand for acute care, freeing up capacity and offering an effective early intervention pathway that prevents conditions worsening. Thera Farms Australia will incorporate best-practice learnings from these international precedents to offer a local solution that improves the pathway of care and recovery for individuals experiencing complex mental health challenges. Finally, after decades of advocacy, Australians living with mental illness will have access to integrated, holistic mental health care in the communities where they live, learn and work.

The Next Step

Thera Farms Australia is currently seeking an investment of funds to commission a full feasibility study.

The Thera Farms Australia model of care will be an Australian-first. A feasibility study will thoroughly investigate its merits and test its viability, identifying relevant regulations and fit-for-purpose governance arrangements. To do so, the feasibility study team will consult with experts, governments and communities, and listen and be responsive to people with lived experience.

The feasibility study will examine the Thera Farms Australia model of care in detail, testing its key assumptions and exploring its viability against a range of measures. The study will consider service design and delivery, regional population needs and service demand, clinical and non-clinical staff recruitment, potential farm communities and locations, and investigate preferences from a social, economic and environmental point of view. Additionally, it will look at eligibility for social impact investment and the specifics of an outcomes-based evaluation project to measure impact. 

This is an important next step that provides governments and the market with confidence in the approach and value for money potential of Thera Farms Australia. It is intended to promote awareness, interest and ultimately investment in the project. The feasibility study is the foundation that will secure success for therapeutic farms in the Australian context.

On completion, this comprehensive study will be a valuable resource for the Australian mental health sector and one that Thera Farms Australia will gladly share with interested governments, community groups and organisations wishing to explore the unique benefits of therapeutic farms for mental health recovery in Australia.

Endnotes

Engel GL. The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Psychodyn Psychiatry. 2012 Sep;40(3):377-96. doi: 10.1521/pdps.2012.40.3.377. PMID: 23002701.

https://www.hopewellcommunity.org/outcomes/over

Huberman, Frances, "Gould Farm: outcomes at a psychosocial therapeutic community re-examined: a project based upon an independent investigation, with permission of the Gould Farm, Monterey, Massachusetts" (2015). Master’s Thesis, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
https://scholarworks.smith.edu/theses/917

Heatherington L, Bonner BL, Rosenberg D, Patterson RD, Linsley J. Sustaining outcomes research in residential treatment: A 15-year study of the Gould Farm program. Psychol Serv. 2019 Nov;16(4):675-686. doi: 10.1037/ser0000253. Epub 2018 Jun 14. PMID: 29902024.

Contact Us

If you are interested in supporting the feasibility study or would like more information about the Thera Farms Australia model of care, please contact Liz Everard.

Legal name Thera Farms Australia Inc Incorporated
Registration No. A0111909C
ABN 45 952 690 141

This innovative initiative is a project in the making.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Thera Farms Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.