The journey to Cooper Ridge Farm wasn’t always a pastoral path. Josephine and Justin Fuller, once entangled in the corporate web, discovered a yearning for something more profound, more purposeful, more powerful. This epiphany led them away from the confines of boardrooms and deadlines. Even as Justin continued his role as a construction project manager at the Savannah River Site nuclear facility, the couple found themselves at a crossroads. It was in their newfound haven that they realized both the land and animals surrounding them could be a tool for healing and learning.
“We both wanted property and when we found this property, it was already an established farm, at least the fencing was here, some of the fencing. So, then we started to get our animals and we realized that we really have something special here. It just kind of fell into place. The animals that we were purchasing, our goats, we and even the people that we got them from said, ‘this one goat is like a dog. He’ll follow you around everywhere.’ The low line black Angus have a different temperament that is very calming than a full size Angus. They just tend to be a calm breed. So, it just kind of fell into place with each animal that we’ve added to our farm,” says Josephine Fuller, Founder & CEO of Cooper Ridge Farm.
With participants, aged three to twenty four gracing their pastures, Cooper Ridge Farm emerges as a place of endless possibilities. For children and adults with and without special needs, the embrace of a non-judgmental animal partner can be life-altering. As sunlight filters through swaying branches, young hearts find solace, acceptance, and empowerment in the company of these gentle creatures.
“I think animals calm and motivate us, and that in and of itself opens the doors for self-improvement on so many levels. Just by a look or a touch, it completely changes the world of the person interacting with that animal. Traditional therapies, they go through their system of traditional therapies and they may plateau at certain points. They’re looking for something that I think piques an interest in a child that has a natural interest with animals. I think children have more of a natural interest with animals when they’re younger. They want to learn about farm animals, they want to be outside. Some like to get dirty, or they come here and they learn how to get dirty and be okay with that,” says Fuller.
Among the many stories of growth at Cooper Ridge Farm, one shines notably bright – that of eleven-year-old Gideon Davis, a young man navigating life on the autism spectrum. For Gideon, Cooper Ridge has become more than just a place; it’s a sanctuary where leaps and bounds aren’t just dreams, but tangible milestones. Gideon’s mother Jenny, marvels at Josephine’s uncanny ability to unlock her son’s potential – going as far as calling her a Miracle Worker.
“Since his diagnosis at the age of two, we’ve been in occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and he’s gained a lot of skills, but in a therapeutic setting and office clinic, that sort of thing. But while he is here working with Ms. Josephine, all those things he’s learning in OT and physical therapy are coming into play. When he’s using his knees and squatting down to pick up a bucket of chicken feed, instead of bending over with his back like he used to and working on lower body strength and upper body strength, and as he’s walking, not only is he trying to communicate directions to this lovable goat, he’s also following multi-step instructions from Ms. Josephine, which is one of the things that we’re always working on,” says Jenny Davis, Gideon’s Mom.
“We do our sessions for ninety minutes, which is longer than most therapies that a child will attend,” says Fuller. “It gives us the ability to have animal time and also other activities, whether it’s gardening, out learning how to seed, how to plant things from seed and harvest and take it home. Whether we’re learning about color number, animal identification, there’s all different things, or maintaining our meal worm farm, they’re getting involved in everything.”
For Jenny Davis, Cooper Ridge Farm has ignited a spark of hope. A hope that Gideon’s future is one of independence. A future where he isn’t bound by the limitations of his condition. Cooper Ridge stands as a testament to humanity’s innate desire to heal, connect, and evolve. Josephine, Justin, and their four-legged residents have nurtured a space where seeds of change are sown and miracles unfold, one hoof print at a time.
“We live for the future. I mean, we work day by day, but we live for the future. We want them to be themselves, and we want to help them improve in any way that we can. If there’s a goal to get them out and working someone out and having a job, whatever suits them. Maybe that’s not a goal and maybe it can’t happen, but there’s a possibility and we want to open those possibilities,” says Fuller.
By: Ray D’Alessio