Valuable Skills Taught at Farmsteads of New England

Farmsteads of New England Goat Soap program

Hillsborough, New Hampshire

Like many other human services organizations, Farmsteads of New England (FNE) offers day, residential and relief support for adults and children with autism and other developmental disabilities. But what makes Farmsteads of New England unique is their environment—all programs take place on working farms in New Hampshire.

While participants can partake in a variety of traditional recreational activities—such as arts & crafts, swimming or hiking—they also have the ability to grow crops, raise animals, weave and work with wood.

Nestled away in the rural town of Hillsborough, New Hampshire—and with another location an hour east in the town of Epping—FNE provides their day services, residential supports and relief support services in a full-scale farming environment. Deborah DeScenza founded the organization in 1999, with the belief that a farm serves the needs of numerous people with developmental disabilities and provides vocational activities that are meaningful and satisfying because the results of individuals’ work are readily evident.

FNE is a 2012 Community Partner grant recipient of The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation. The staff used the funds from the grant to help develop a new vocational program where program participants make soap from goat’s milk. With the help of the FNE’s head gardener, 23 individuals with developmental disabilities who live and work on the farm have made over 1,150 bars of soap, and several dozen bottles of liquid hand soap.

“The program has been a great success,” FNE’s said Amy Lowell, grant writer for FNE. “The support from The MENTOR Network’s Charitable Foundation has made this little cottage industry—the goat’s milk soap program—a reality.”

The bars and bottles of soap—priced between $5 and $8—are sold at FNE’s on-site farm stand, as well as farmers’ markets and other local businesses. To date, they have distributed 850 bars of soap, which come in a variety of colors and scents, including natural, oatmeal, rose, lavender, peppermint, orange, vanilla and chocolate. The best part is that the milk used to make each bar and bottle is from the farm’s resident nanny goats, which are cared for by the program participants.

The income from the soap sales is going back into the vocational program to help pay for supplies and staff salaries. And as would be the case at any good farm, the staff and participants at Farmsteads of New England are already thinking about the next product they can produce.

“Next is a ceramics and pottery program,” Lowell said.