Last November my uncle -- for his sake I'm going to call him Jay -- went missing. After spending a couple years in a treatment facility for alcoholism, he'd been living on his own, working a manufacturing job and doing well -- or so we thought. The week before Thanksgiving, we got a call from a relative to say Jay had started drinking heavily again, hadn't been showing up for work, had been fired from his job and had been kicked out of his apartment. With nowhere to go, he'd driven himself to Chicago and was floating around at motels there. To make matters worse, we got a call from his last motel to say he hadn't been seen in a couple days, but he'd left his things behind -- including his phone and wallet. My dad filed a missing persons report with the Chicago PD. Then we waited. One day. Two days. Three days. Nothing. With each passing day, our fears grew, and it seemed less and less likely that we'd see my uncle alive again.

Then, a miracle happened. Literally, a miracle. While on his way to work a week later, my dad saw a vehicle at a hotel in town that looked liked my uncle's. On a whim, he pulled into the parking lot to check. It was my uncle. My uncle had remembered what town my parents lived in and drove himself there two hours away from Chicago. He couldn't remember their address, though, and had no way of contacting them without his phone. When my dad found him, he was sitting in his car with his head in his hands -- lost and hopeless.

Since then, my parents have helped Jay get back on his feet. They let him stay with them for the first few weeks, fed him and gave him a safe place to sleep. Careful not to enable his addiction or unhealthy habits, my dad helped get him a hotel room in town to stay in and develop some independence again, helped find him a job and eventually his own apartment. I saw my uncle over Christmas; he's doing well, or as well as he could be given his situation and everything he's been through.

At one point, my parents took Jay to see a therapist at the suggestion of a family friend. The therapist lived on a therapy farm with horses and other farm animals. From what I heard from my parents afterwards, it was a really great experience for my uncle! He loved working with and riding the horses there, and the therapist said he'd actually do really well working on a farm or with animals. My uncle went back a couple more times before deciding he didn't need anymore therapy. But I've been struck by the concept of a therapy farm, something I'd never heard of before.

I recently saw someone online asking for suggestions of therapy farms around Minnesota. Following a long year of COVID fears and isolation, the individual expressed feelings of depression and loneliness lately and thought that spending time with animals might be therapeutic. There were very few suggestions in the comment section, so I thought I'd do my part to help put a list together. Here are some therapy farms I found around Minnesota:

Freedom Farm

Located in Waverly, MN Freedom Farm partners with the unique gifts of the horse to offer healing, hope, confidence and strength. Their core values are (1) Building Confidence with grace, (2) Working together in a safe and respectful environment, (3) Encouraging personal growth with compassion and (4) Creating trust through dedication, love and hope. Here's one five-star review on Google:

"I stopped by unannounced with enquiries about their facility. Everyone I spoke to welcomed my visit and answered all my questions. The stables are so clean and well-maintained! The horses looked healthy and happy. Even "Lucy" the dog was gentle and friendly! Again, they weren't expecting me at all. So, "BRAVO", Freedom Farm!"

Sandy Knoll Farm

Sandy Knoll Farm offers horse boarding, training, riding lessons and activities and equine-assisted psychotherapy in Rice, MN. 'Working with [horses] can help people overcome addictions, depression, anxiety, PTSD, family issues, emotional and behavioral challenges," reads the website. Sandy Knoll Farm offers healing programs for both children and veterans. Here's a five-star review they've received on Google:

"This is a fabulous place for riding lessons!"

Acres for Life

Acres for Life is a therapy and wellness center in Forest Lake, MN offering traditional In-Office Therapy, Military Services, Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy and more. Here's a testimony at the farm's website from a former client:

"“Thank you for a six week learning experience that I will treasure the rest of my life.  I had been skeptical about the potential benefits of such a program but it has made a phenomenal impact on my recovery."

Carlson's Llovable Llamas

Carlson's Llovable Llamas farm in Waconia, MN may be one of the most unique therapy farms in the state! "Lead a llama, hug a llama, yoga with llamas — we guarantee you’ll be smiling!" reads the website. "Visit llamas at our farm, join a llama summer camp, enroll in the adopt-a-llama program or schedule a llama inspired birthday party at the farm. We can bring our llamas to your special event or classroom. We also offer llama therapy visit opportunities." Carlson's Llovable Llamas has even racked up some recognitions, like being voted "#1 BEST PLACE FOR CHILDREN'S PARTY" and"#1 BEST PLACE FOR SUMMER CAMP" by Waconia Patriot “Best of Section. 

The Yellow Farm

The Yellow Farm Equine-Assisted Activities offers therapeutic rides for special needs individuals, boy scouts, girl scouts and more. "Therapeutic Horseback Riding is learning the skill of riding horse while the rider is receiving the physical benefits of the horse's movement," reads the farm's website. Riders also develop skills like "overcoming fear, building self esteem, gaining confidence, trust issues, tolerance of animals and others, patience, multi tasking, listening skills, following instruction, responsibility of caring for animals, fine tuning motor skills" and more. Here's a five-star review on Google:

"We love The Yellow Farm! Kelly is amazing and so are her horses! My son does equine therapy with Kelly and a horse named Bodie. He LOVES it! The Yellow Farm offers amazing therapeutic riding, as well as classic riding!"

Know of any other therapy farms around Minnesota? Leave a comment at the bottom of the article for us to add!

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