Arion Farm embraces new business model

Arion Therapeutic Farm in in East Kelowna looks to business partnerships to secure needed funding.

Heather Henderson

Whether it’s the sound of children giggling as they run through fields, the encouraging words of a therapist helping a client onto one of the horses or the sensation of a goat nudging its way into a cuddle, Arion Therapeutic Farms is always bustling with activity.

In the seven years since it opened, the farm has made a name for itself as being a place for people who have a wide range of therapeutic needs to be free and get the help they need in the most natural of environments.

“That’s something we always want to do,” said owner Heather Henderson.

But there are a few changes underway that Henderson believes will create better service for existing clients while bringing financial and programming stability to the operation.

The farm used to be run as a non-profit society, Arion Therapeutic Riding Association (ATRA). As of this year, that’s no longer the case.

ATRA is still active and situated in the middle of the grounds to offer equine therapy of all kinds, but there are some major changes developing in the way the rest of the farm is run.

The non-profit society model didn’t work as well as Henderson had hoped. They were continually applying to get funds to run programs, and when the funds ran out there were people who were disappointed that the programs they had grown to like had disappeared.

“The unpredictable nature of grant funding” made long term planning nearly impossible, she said.

Now Arion Therapeutic Farms will be the foundation for a number of new partnerships that could unfold in the months ahead. At the heart of it all, is the creative centre.

If you turn left when you head into the Southeast Kelowna farm off Saucier Road, there’s a cozy little building that once served as a residence. Now its uses are far more vast.

“In this centre area here,” said Henderson, gesturing to a couch adjacent to a commercial kitchen, “people can meet and discuss anything they want…I’m even going to bake there.”

To the left of the entrance there’s a movement studio that can be rented by the hour or on a longer basis for classes. There are two smaller studio spaces for more intimate programming as well.

“There are so many people in this community who need a space to operate their programs but they can’t afford to regularly rent an office,” she said.

“They can do what they need here, and maybe a parent of one of the people using another program can learn about something else to help their child while they’re hanging out here.”

She was particularly chuffed in recent days when she overheard parents discussing potential on-site programming with an instructor

Leaving that building, and heading deeper into the farm, Henderson also expects to build a greenhouse to replace a house that’s been run-down by time.

“My intention is to ramp up the agricultural use of the space,” she said.

“A greenhouse in a park setting by the creek is part of my vision…we’re looking at farming partnerships with the city and Rotary Club, and life skills workshops.

The riding area will also be expanded and there’s a plan to have a revamped caretaker property above the stables.

Henderson one day would like to build long-term housing units on the end of her property, so adults with special needs have a place to call home.

Many of these plans have to be approved by Kelowna city council, and they’ll be jumping through official hoops in the months to come.

“By doing all this we are increasing the number of users and tenants and leasers of space, which will reduce the costs to run the farm,” she said.

And the farm is not just for people who have challenges, she stressed.

With the membership model that’s outlined on the website, a variety of users can use the space for any number of purposes, including birthday parties.

“It’s still a place to come and enjoy nature and get back to basics,” she said.

“I never want to take away from the reason I created this. I want to make sure that people… had a place to run and be free. By creating this (business model) we can keep that and do more.”

For more information on how the farm is changing, go to its website www.ariontherapeutic.farm .