Best of America

Meet the Amazing Woman Who Helps People Heal Through Teaching Them to Farm

Sherry Mitchell/Country WomanMy mother, Sherry Phillips Mitchell, spent her girlhood tagging along with her father, Leslie Edward Phillips, on their southern Ohio farm. She learned how to mend fences, plow fields, make goat cheese and change the oil in the farm’s vehicles. And she learned farm life doesn’t offer instant rewards, but if you stick with it long enough, the effort and the long days pay off.

My grandpa spent his later years living on a corner of Mom’s land, Cherry Ridge Farms, where together they enjoyed a Saturday morning horseback riding ritual before he died in 2011.

Since that time, the farm has blossomed into Cherry Ridge Therapeutic Learning Programs, a center for learning, horseback riding and companionship.

Sherry Mitchell/Country Woman“I am a ‘road scholar,’ learning in an experiential way,” Mom says. She gained programming and fundraising skills while directing a crisis pregnancy center. “I feel I was gifted with eyes to see the needs of a wounded spirit,” she adds. She has partnered with a program called Working to Empower Students Together (WEST), which helps young people who are wrestling with learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral challenges, or unstable home environments.

These fifth-through 12th-graders haul hay, muck stalls and ride, groom and halter horses, all guided by Mom’s farm rules: No bullying, no swearing and no complaining.

Kids with emotional, physical and mental challenges also get help through her Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, which is led by instructors certified through PATH, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.

Sherry Mitchell/Country WomanMom’s latest project, the Farm Day Grief Camp, was born out of her own grieving process after the loss of my grandpa. The first session took place in October, and Mom plans to run the camp again this fall.

“I’m an adult woman who lost my dad only six years ago,” Mom says. “There is nothing better than nature and animals to help with the grieving process.” The camp’s first visitors were five kids mourning the loss of a 7-year-old who died of cancer. Activities included painting memory boxes and recalling the child’s favorite things; bonding with Hickory and Misty, the farm’s kid-friendly mini horses; and a balloon launch they called Sentiments to Heaven.

“Each camper wrote one thing they wished they could share with their departed loved one on their balloon,” Mom says. Children living with physical disabilities are also welcome at Cherry Ridge Farms. Recently a student in a wheelchair smiled ear-to-ear as he led Misty and Hickory around the show ring. Mom plans to improve the woodland trail to make it accessible to wheelchairs. And she is creating a monarch sanctuary to facilitate sensory learning.

Sherry Mitchell/Country WomanMom shares family recipes and stories on her blog, Take Joy! My Farmhouse Journal, and in a book of the same name. Her vision inspires children, ensuring the lessons she learned on the farm will be preserved for years to come. I know my grandpa would be proud.

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