The Life Farm in Więckowice near Kraków – also known as “The Farm” Residential and Educational Centre – is one of the most autism-friendly places throughout Poland. The Life Farm is the first specialist centre in the country, combining residential, therapeutic, educational and recreational functions. The Farm is a home to its residents, and at the same time, it provides a broad variety of options also to those who commute here for day activities. The centre is running programmes of social and vocational activation. It initiates cooperation projects – both nationally and internationally.
Above everything else, the Life Farm is the place where we strive to create the right climate for developing the individual potential of adults with autism to the fullest. It is a chance for a decent living, and an alternative to, oftentimes, dramatic fates – for instance, to existence in a closed psychiatric ward. Life Farm is the place where persons with autism find conditions for self-fulfilment and the highest possible degree of independence; they gain the sense of welfare and selfesteem. It is a safe place, where their rights are always respected and protected.
In 2015 the Life Farm is celebrating its 10th anniversary, but the concept is older than that. The idea was born many years ago in the heads of those who created the Community of Hope Foundation. Established in 1998, the Foundation has as its mission the creation of a comprehensive support system for persons with autism and related developmental disorders as well as their families. The Life Farm is the key element of that support. President of the Foundation, Alina Perzanowska, the mother of Michał, a young man with autism, was inspired by the examples of rural communities for persons with autism, which have been operating for decades in many countries of Western Europe and the USA, to a great success. She was particularly drawn to the Irish Society of Autism-run Dunfirth Farm. The latter centre, in the vicinity of Dublin, is considered to be a model example in its field. The Founders of Dunfirth Farm – Pat and Nuala Matthews – have been supporting the Life Farm with their example, and with their kind and experienced counsel, from the very beginning. The Life Farm also enjoys the patronage of the International Autism Organisation.
The Life Farm lies in a picturesque location, and it occupies an area of 7 hectares near Kraków, in the buffer zone of the Jurassic Nature Reserve. Only ten years ago, this was an empty, green field. Today, in the enclosed compound, there is an orchard, fruit and vegetable gardens, and hothouses. At the Farm we grow cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, beetroots, cabbage, salad, kale, pumpkins, many varieties of apples, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries, currants… and more.
All crops are biodynamic – since 2008, the Life Farm holds the certificate of an organic farm. Experts from the Kraków University of Agriculture and the Małopolska Agricultural Advisory Centre are assisting us in developing our seeding and sowing plans. We belong to the regional NATURA Association of Organic Farmers.
Since 2014, our centre is even more environment-friendly – as we have partially transferred to solar power. This was made possible by the “Free the energy!” competition by Greenpeace Poland, which the Life Farm was lucky to have won. As a reward, Greenpeace sponsored the photovoltaic panels, which were fitted on the roof of one of the houses.
At the Farm, we also have a sledding hill, a bicycle path, and since recently, also a fitness trail constructed with the help of the Kraków Airport as a part of their “Supporting the Neighbours” action. We also have wooden arbours, hand-built by international volunteers with the help of the residents. Our Outdoor Recreation Centre organises integration picnics and sports activities such as Nordic walking and T’ai chi. All that is happening among the greenery, which grows more beautiful each year.
Over the long term, our concept envisions 5 homes for 35 permanent residents. According to the concept, each home is a small community of a few persons – which fosters close relationships, as well as the atmosphere of peace and comfort.
Until this day, two of the planned five homes have been built – the first was inaugurated in 2005, the second in 2011. The construction of each of the houses is a great organisational and financial effort, requiring the involvement of numerous people – among them many volunteers. It also requires fundraising from various sources. The construction so far has been financed from the MRPO and PFRON programmes, from the Foundation’s own resources, from the funds of an
anonymous Dutch foundation, and many other donors.
Both homes are housing the unit called the Małopolska Regional Social Care Home “At the Life Farm” (before: the Family Care Home). Adaptation and day activities started in 2005, while the first residents moved in three years later. Today 10 persons with autism are living here: three women and eight men. It is a great success that they feel at home – and there is no doubt that the Life Farm is their proper home. Each of the residents enjoys his own or her own room, individually furnished and decorated, and including en-suite bathroom. In addition, together with other inhabitants, they use spacious
common rooms, kitchens with dining annexes, and outside terraces.
Since 2005, Day Activity Centre at the Life Farm has been in operation. It serves dozens of persons who commute to the Farm for workshops and other activities. The main occupation of both residents and participants in day programmes is working the organic farm and garden, but there are also a number of other workshops and studios.
These include, in the First Home: an educational workshop – resident’s club, an arts and crafts studio, a computer and office workshop, as well as gardening, carpentry and laundry workshops. The upper floor of the Second Home houses a rehabilitation room, a ceramics studio, as well as offices and guest rooms for volunteers.
In their work, the Farm’s therapists combine a number of methodologies, with an emphasis on the TEACCH model. Activities at the Farm are based on a clear organisation of time and space. The day always starts with an individual plan of activities, in the format preferred by the participant – either in writing, or in pictures.