During COVID-19, a former Bainbridge Island educator created a therapeutic farm where people can relax in a peaceful outdoor environment by petting goats, gardening and creating art.
Michele Muffoletto, owner of the Wanderers’ Nest Farm, is not a therapist. But she’s had a varied career focused on helping people. She’s worked in nonprofits, served in the Peace Corps and was a classroom teacher at Ordway Elementary School. She even considered a career as an officer in the Air Force, but her love for rescuing animals and farming drew her to BI where she now operates a therapeutic farm where people come to pet her gentle Toggenburg and Saanen goats.
At her farm, Muffoletto has created a safe haven for children and adults to connect with her animals, and it starts from the moment they enter the garden gate. Theo, a shy rescue puppy, greets clients in the driveway and slowly introduces them to the calming space filled with the scent of lavender, soft green colors and sounds of bubbling water.
During her time working with teens, Muffoletto saw that kids needed a space to relax and connect with animals and nature. “Initially they are nervous,” but eventually they gravitate to the garden, the animals or the meditation pavilion, she said.
Walking around the farm every sense notices nature’s calming effect; a gentle breeze, the sounds of rustling leaves, clucking chickens and the smell of hay. Clients may sit quietly at the pond covered with blooming lily pads and listen to the frogs.
After leaving the teaching profession, Muffoletto earned a certification in the human-animal bond, an area of work focusing on the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that includes; emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals and the environment.
Muffoletto started the farm and began getting goats from Puget Sound Goat Rescue, also learning about pasture management and how to work with goats for therapeutic sessions. That was where she witnessed the healing power of being with animals.
Five residents live in the goat abode; Bronson, Finley, Miles, Sailor and Silas. “They are just the gentlest guys.” They were bottle raised, “and so they love us,” Muffoletto said.
For two years, The Wanderers’ Nest was beneficial for clients who needed an outdoor space. Muffoletto said the pandemic brought many challenges for people, and they realized what was important to them. From that, an awareness arose for self-care, mental health and needing a safe space to go to.
Clients come from as far as Tacoma, and it benefits kids and adults facing busy lifestyles. People “crave it,” she said.
“It turned out to be an incredible resource for people. There is such a need here. People are so wrapped up in their devices and have so much pressure and self-imposed expectations. People want to slow down and interact with the animals, and dig in the dirt and learn how food is grown. The response has been phenomenal,” Muffoletto said.
That day, Lena O’Neill Caine was there for a goat session with Miles, a 170-pound Saanen dairy goat, the eldest of five ruminants on the farm. After petting and brushing Miles with a curry comb for about 20 minutes, Caine looked calm and blissful.
Muffoletto sees this transformation often. “For many, it becomes a moment of self-care. It’s pretty magical to watch,” as people relax their bodies and let their cares go. “It’s pretty sacred for people.”
Caine laughs as Miles begs her to scratch his back by bending his neck and nibbling on his side. “My heart rate is lower, I’m taking deeper breaths, my energy and attention is expanded. I feel a little intoxicated,” Caine said. “I just feel more connected to myself.”