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Hospitality as activism

Community members enjoying a concert together in our community center.

Opening the door a little wider

When you think of activism, does hospitality come to mind? The word activism is usually most strongly associated with protests, policy reform, or donating to political causes. And those are all vital forms of activism that help to dismantle oppressive power structures and redistribute resources. And yet, there are other, counter-balancing forms of activism as well: kindness, care, and hospitality being a few. They are just as necessary if we hope to create a world where everyone can build a life of meaning.

Hospitality at Gould Farm

In 1913, when social reformers Agnes and William Gould bought 110 acres in Monterey, they set out to create a community of radical hospitality. A place where people from all walks of life were welcome, invited to participate in whatever ways they were able, and where everyone broke bread together at the dinner table. When Gould Farm was founded, people with mental health challenges were treated no differently from others. Decades later, as expertise about treatments evolved, and the field became more focused, Gould Farm became licensed as a residential treatment facility.

What Gould Farm was then and still is now is a radically hospitable place of healing for those who find their way to our doors. In concrete terms, that hospitality looks like a broad financial aid policy for guests, a staff committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and an invitation to join us in our work of running a now 700-acre farm the moment you arrive, whether guest, volunteer, staff, or neighbor.

Meeting the need

The public mental health treatment system in the U.S. is mostly described as not being a system at all. It is rife with challenges. The pandemic amplified these challenges for the majority of people as mental health needs skyrocketed and available resources dwindled. Individuals seeking care for a complex mental illness frequently encounter barriers to care, even pre-pandemic. Did you know that not one state in the U.S. meets the minimum recommended number of psychiatric beds? It is difficult - sometimes impossible - to find refuge or welcome if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. These are realities people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia have faced for too long in our country.

People who come to Gould Farm to participate in our treatment program are called guests for good reason. By the time folks make it to our door, it is no exaggeration to say that they have experienced increased distress because of the very system that was designed to help. Many have experienced the rejection of being outcast. Part of the work that Gould Farm does is to return to each individual a sense of autonomy and a place to belong.

The ability to choose to be here is vital and, once you become a guest, the right to exercise your voice is nurtured. As one former guest shared recently, "Being at Gould Farm changed the course of my life because I have learned to advocate for myself and protect my integrity as a human being."

Community members enjoying a meal together.

Hospitality as activism

Gould Farm board chair, Phyllis Vine, PhD, recently published a book titled, Fighting for

Recovery - An Activists’ History of Mental Health Reform. When I asked Phyllis about her thoughts on hospitality at Gould Farm being a form of activism, she replied,

“Core to Gould Farm’s success is the warm welcome guests receive from the moment they arrive, enabling a recovery journey in a community which appreciates every individual’s contributions. This is activism at its best because it is person-centered advocacy in the service of a larger goal of wellness for mental health.”

Playing the long game of radical hospitality has allowed Gould Farm to have a global impact with our model. Over our 100+ year history, people from Australia, Denmark, the Cayman Islands, Canada, and Ireland have come to visit, eat at our table, and learn from us. They have gone on to replicate this model in their own countries. Several farm-based residential programs exist in the U.S. based on the Gould Farm model as well - in Rose Hill Center in Michigan, Hopewell in Ohio, and CooperRiis in North Carolina, to name a few. There is something timeless about a therapeutic community - it seems to hold vibrant elements of what is missing in our divided society today.

In this historical, global moment, Gould Farm continues to ask: who is looking for hospitality? We will continue to do our best to play our part in answering that question and welcoming you in.

This post was written by Stephanie McMahon, outreach director, with support from Lisanne Finston, executive director, and board members, Phyllis Vine and Lauren Behrman.



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