MONTEREY -- A 3-year-old girl runs up the path along the fish pond. Her father says she is looking for a giant koi fish called Moby-Dick. Her mother rocks her four-month-old sister, Willa, in a sling as she sits at a picinc table. Guests and staff have brought dinner outside on trays, walking out the open door from the wood-paneled dining room.

This is the kind of place where people spontaneously begin a game of sardines outdoors after dinner. One person hides, and everyone else searches -- when anyone finds the hidden person, they join together, in an inverse hide-and-seek.

Gould Farm is a working farm. A day-old calf nudges a friendly hand.

A volunteer harvests summer squash at Gould Farm.
A volunteer harvests summer squash at Gould Farm. (Rachel Mossey / Courtesy of Gould Farm)
Two kitten-sized piglets are standing in the bucket lids they were using for milk troughs, in a pen near a herd of young pigs as bright-eyed as puppies at dinner time, and milking cows, and beef cattle, and tawny chickens.

The farm grows food for the dining hall. Tonight, the trays leave the buffet carrying greens, maple dressing, spicy baked beans, black beans with bacon, roast chicken, sweet corn. Tamara McKernan rocks her younger daughter, talking companionably with clinical director Jane Linsley.

McKernan is a clinician, and she and her husband, graphic designer Nathan Lawton, a house-advisor on the residential team, came here from Brooklyn, N.Y. Now they are raising children here.

Gould Farm is a work therapy community.


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Staff, volunteers and guests live and work together, caring for the farm and the gardens, the forests and the grounds. Guests have come here facing pain and illness. They leave familiar places and people to spend a year here, in a quiet place, to find a new sense of themselves.

And this summer, the community celebrates its 100th year.

Rose Doyle, an Irish novelist, writer of international best-sellers and journalist with the Irish Times, has served as a volunteer at Gould Farm for nearly two years.

Her son, Simon Boland, stayed here for two and a half years, around 2006.

"He became really well here," she said.

She felt these were the happiest years of his life, and so when he died, at 27, she came here in his memory.

"People come here who have lost confidence in themselves and the world," she said. "A community like this should be first port of call when someone becomes unsure, distressed, emotionally ill."

"Everything everybody does here is essential work -- mowing grass, washing dishes.

People get a sense of belonging, a sense that they matter, which is so easy to lose."

Tim, a guest at the farm for two years (who speaks under a pseudonym to preserve the guests' privacy) comes to the barns to care for the pigs. It matters intensely to him that the work he does makes a difference to each of the people around him. The animals he cares for feed the community.

"It's a good feeling to know I did this -- I helped," he said.

Some people try more than one team and set of tasks, Doyle said. Some like the structure and the rhythm of the Harvest Barn, where the place is pristine and the jobs are clearly defined. Some like the unknowability of a day on the farm, working with animals, and some the unpredictability and speed of the kitchen.

Work can become play, Burkhart said.

"People will go down to the barn when the piglets are born," she said. They will walk down and connect with people there.

Even the most worldly guests, Doyle said, are drawn into the easy, companionable warmth of the place.

They may have clinical session while walking a dog or sitting by the river, she said. A conversation can take place everywhere, and does. People find it easier to open up and to think about themselves outdoors, she suggested, in a quiet place.

The staff live as well as work in the community, and the guests get to know them in over dinner, in their own houses, or listening to the piano in the long room off the dining hall.

"They see our foibles and strengths," Linsley said. "They know us, and we know it. When my dog died, I shared that."

"They took part in naming our baby," McKernan said. "Boundaries are different here."

She also valued working with a close group of colleagues, talking togeather readily.

"Here, we see a person as a whole person," she said. "Coming from a hospital setting, that's the greatest difference."

"Here, everyone puts everything aside for the guests," Doyle said. "In Simon's case, it drew him in easily. His over-riding feeling was trust."

And many people facing illness and pain do recover, go back to their lives and live fully. Recovery is a huge part of mental illness, she said, and too often forgotten.

People often come from one discipline and find another. People may come with a career in teaching or engineering or supreme court law and find a new passion. One member of the kitchen team has gone on to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. A guest who developed a love of photography now makes his living as a photographer.

People come to Gould Farm because they have lost a way forward. They come looking for a new way ahead.

On the chalk board in the dining room, someone has quoted Rainer Maria Rilke:

"Whoever you are: Step out into the evening ot of your living room, where everything is so known. Your house is the last before the infinite: whoever you are."

If you go ...

Centennial cookbook: ‘Gould Farm: 100 years of good food'

available at The Bookloft in Great Barrington and through amazon.com

Archive: An exhibit of photographs, letters, descriptions of life on the farm, original recipes and more, assembled in honor of the 100th anniversary, will travel the county this year.

Harvest Barn: On the farm -- from Route 23 in Monterey, take Curtis Road into Gould Farm and turn left at the stop sign. You will see the barn on your right.

The self-service store offers packaged cookies, breads and other baked goods, along with maple syrup, honey, cheddar and eggs. Open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The retail bakery and café serves breads, pastries, coffee and tea, and offers Gould Farm maple syrup, honey, cheddar cheese and eggs, as well as jams, chocolates, granola and, in summer, vegetables from the gardens. Open Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Roadside Café: Route 23 East, Monterey -- Breakfast and lunch with ingredients fresh from the farm, Tuesday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Diane's trail: Gould Farm's woodlands are crossed by a network of trails and old logging roads that farm staff and guests use for hiking, skiing, collecting maple sap and gathering firewood. Diane's Trail, named in memory of forestry manager Bob Rausch's wife, who died of cancer in 1992, is open to the public. Largely a wetland trail, it has allowed many to learn about this unique habitat.