Fri, Jul 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Spanish yogurt farm cultivates better mental health

Thomson Reuters Foundation, OLOT, Spain

Thomson Reuters Foundation,

OLOT, Spain

High up in the remote hills of Catalonia, workers carefully stack crates of yogurt pots and diligently stick labels on jars for one of Spain’s most successful — and unusual — dairies, where nearly half the staff have mental health problems.

For decades, La Fageda, meaning The Beech Forest in Catalan, has been employing people with mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to help them find purpose in life and greater emotional stability.

“Normally those with schizophrenia inspire fear — people don’t know how they are going to act,” said Albert Riera, a spokesman for the pioneering social business, about 120km northeast of Barcelona. “At La Fageda, these people don’t have a label — they are totally integrated — and they start improving, reconstructing themselves without any intervention.”

Finding and holding on to paid work is often a challenge for people with mental health problems because of stigma and misunderstanding of the recovery process, according to the WHO, but psychiatric studies show that even low paid, part-time work can reduce hospital readmissions and their need for healthcare services.

Nearly 130 people with mental health issues work at La Fageda, mixing on a daily basis with about 160 other employees that do not.

While people with mental health conditions can struggle to maintain healthy routines and stay away from drugs, working at La Fageda motivates them to get up early, focus on recovery and improves emotional balance, Riera said.

“Our attitude is: You are not ill, you have an illness like I have a pain in my ligament — it’s the same,” he said. “You are responsible for your work and you have to do it well, and then you will receive a wage... That they can see the yogurts they have made in the supermarket — and that people pay for them — gives them great pride.”

Staff with mental health issues take a bus each day from shared accommodation in the nearby town of Olot down a long, winding path through the forest to the farm, nestled among the verdant hills and ancient volcanoes of La Garrotxa region.

A team of therapists is based permanently on site and staff can also use an outdoor gym, generous spaces devoted to exercise and relaxation, and take part in creative activities.

Joan Vila Marco, who has been working at La Fageda for nearly two decades, was keen to talk about his art.

“Did you see my pictures?” he asked as he piled up his plate in the staff canteen. “I like to draw.”

The 56-year-old was diagnosed with schizophrenia while studying at university in Barcelona.

His condition deteriorated and he eventually had to drop out.

His parents — who were desperate, not knowing what to do with him — were relieved when they found La Fageda, Riera said.

Now Marco teaches art in workshops at the farm and his drawings hang in its offices, an obvious source of pride to him.

Even the farm’s outhouses, looking out over the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees, embody serenity.

Baroque chamber music wafts from the barns as a cow rubs itself against a giant massage brush — both used to calm the livestock down.

“Working in nature, working with living beings, animals and plants, is an essential part of the La Fageda project,” said Cristobal Colon, who founded La Fageda on a shoestring budget in 1982 as a cooperative. “The environment is part of the therapy.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top