ServiceNet’s Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield holds open house to celebrate third anniversary

The Daily Hampshire Gazette. July 14, 2014. By Rebecca Everett.

HATFIELD — Prospect Meadow Farm, a nonprofit social enterprise farm run by ServiceNet, is growing in more ways than one.

The farm at 103A Prospect St. started in May of 2011 with a garden and 50 chickens, tended mostly by clients of ServiceNet, a Northampton-based mental health and human services agency.

Since then it has added additional gardens, three alpacas, two llamas, about 250 chickens, and pigs. In terms of sales, it has expanded its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from 20 to 40 and offered those members eggs, bacon and sausage as well. It has added a biweekly egg delivery service and sells eggs at local stores.

But the most exciting expansion, said Farm Director Shawn Robinson, is the number of people involved in working the farm.

“The number of individuals we are able to employ has increased dramatically,” Robinson said. Before, a limited number of people were able to work through a supported employment program, but many volunteered at the farm. Now, the farm employs 16 people with developmental disabilities.

“They’re getting minimum wage, and we give them decent hours — up to 30,” he said. “And they get the added health benefits that come from working the soil.”

Many ServiceNet clients deal with depression, anger management, and other mental health challenges, he said. “This appears to be very therapeutic to many of them,” he said.

Robinson said that supporting that idea is a recent thesis study done by Frank Bayles, a student at the Smith College School for Social Work who interviewed Prospect Meadow Farm employees and volunteers.

He concluded that the farm work benefitted clients and said therapeutic farms like it should not be discounted as “fringe” in the world of mental health treatment, according to the study.

In addition to helping dozens of people who are dealing with physical, mental, developmental and economic challenges, the farm has produced more than 25,000 pounds of produce. What is not sold in CSA shares or at the roadside farm stand is donated to ServiceNet group homes and shelters, the Northampton Survival Center, and other local food programs.

The farm has sold out of CSA shares for this season but there is a waiting list for those who would like to buy a 2015 share.

The farm is hosting an open house Aug. 1 from 3 to 5 p.m. to celebrate its third anniversary and welcome new faces to the farm.

Those attending can take guided tours and hay rides, interact with barnyard animals and do arts and crafts. Live music will be provided by The Endless, a band of ServiceNet staff members and client, and Carinae, a Hadley-based band that plays “a psychedelic mix of musical genres,” according to a press release from ServiceNet.

Snacks will be provided and desserts will be available for purchase from SugarBakers Cake Truck of Southampton.