The Legacy of Root Farm

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Kenley, getting ready for a physical therapy session, has epilepsy and non verbal autism. Angus, the therapy horse, was a racehorse in New York before coming to The Root Farm. Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy using a horse as a healing medium. As the walking pattern of a horse is similar to that of a human in motion, the movement transferred from horse to rider can have a multitude of benefits, including developing muscle tone, postural control, coordination, and much more. The therapists work on goals that teach skills needed for successful participation in school, at home and in the community.

It’s easy to be so impressed by the Root Farm’s legacy that you overlook its current identity and purpose. Its founder, Alice Root, is the great granddaughter of Elihu Root, who served as Secretary of War under McKinley and Roosevelt and Secretary of State under Roosevelt in the early 1900s. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 for his work in international relations.

Root was a figure of influence in both Washington and New York; he became a leading lawyer in New York and remained politically and culturally active throughout life. He and his family were actively involved with Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he established a home and farm in the late 1800s that remain an integral part of the college today.

Dr. Alice Root in 1998, with Root Farm’s horse, Stella, and a young friend.

The original Root Farm was several hundred acres of land and barns on College Hill in Clinton. Root felt it of great importance for his children and grandchildren to be exposed to the ways of rural life; his three children, Edith, Elihu Jr., and Edward, established homesteads in Clinton.

Elihu Jr. became a prominent figure in New York City: lawyer, civic leader, and patron of the arts. He built a summer home in Clinton, adjoining his father’s farm, that he gave to his son, Elihu the 3rd, as a wedding gift. That house was the childhood home of the next generation of Root children. Alice was the youngest.

She rode her first horse out of one of the remaining barns of the aging Root Farm, which have become administrative and cultural centers at the college. It was on the acreage of the Root Farm orchards, fields and woods that Hamilton’s sister college, Kirkland, was established in the 1970s. Kirkland has since become fully integrated into Hamilton.

Alice discovered her passion for horses at a very young age. They became her primary motivational force. She believed deeply in a relationship with land and animals as essential to a balanced and rewarding lifestyle for both herself and her four children.

In the late ‘90s, Alice earned her Ph.D in Mythology with an emphasis in depth psychology. The topic of her doctoral dissertation was “Equine-Assisted Therapy: A Healing Arena for Myth and Method.” With the legacy she received from her ancestors, monetary and motivational, she established the proof for her thesis in the form of the equine-assisted therapy center now known as The Root Farm.

Established and cultivated by Alice and her husband, John Dahlin, the center first operated out of their home farm in Vernon Center before moving to its current location. Root Farm has now expanded into a comprehensive equestrian, agricultural and educational enterprise serving individuals of all ages and abilities.

Alice today.

Nearly 15 years after the establishment of The Root Farm, Alice became a candidate for the very therapy she had herself promoted for years. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2011, she already knew from observation and experience that horseback riding was, indeed, the ultimate therapeutic strategy for the treatment of her symptoms. Hours in the saddle every day became both her medicine and her joy, and she continues to maintain both balance and motor control that might otherwise deteriorate. Her life with horses has truly provided her the Wonderland in which her namesake, Lewis Carroll’s young heroine, first resided.

The Root Farm is now located on over 100 acres in Sauquoit, NY; it comprises an innovative complex that features an equine center, agricultural programs, and an accessible adventure center that includes a ropes course, zip line and climbing walls. The complex provides education, recreation, therapeutic horseback riding, vocational opportunities and many volunteer openings.

Director Rodger Pape, Root Farm Board Member Carin Mei, Founder Dr. Alice Root, and I head off to tour The Root Farm.
Loki is the official Root Farm greeter. One of Loki’s most important duties is managing the front door and making people feel comfortable upon arrival. He may accompany people to their cars when they leave (often jumping in their cars with them!)
Tack room.
Rodger with the Root Farm’s tribe of goats. They generally move as a big, black and brown mass, but the seven goats have distinct personalities and characteristics that set them apart.
This is Luna, the smallest girl.
Despite her size, she has a big personality and doesn’t understand the concept of personal space!
Probably the most outgoing of the goats, Lariat was known as “Larry the Loudmouth” as a kid due to his incessant screaming for attention. (Goats scream like people…it is quite unnerving.) Larry is a few years older now, but still just as in your face or on your back (literally), demanding attention.
In the barn with Lynne, Rodger and Kruzer. Lynne has a permanent brain injury. She considers the Root Farm her salvation and second home.
Paige holding an 11-pound New Zealand/Flemish Giant Rabbit. The rabbits and other small animals play a large role in the many school groups and nursing home field trips that come to the farm each year.
Like most rabbits, Rocket doesn’t like heights and prefers to lie on the ground.
Equipped with heat and grow lights, the greenhouse has become more than a place to grow a variety of plants. It’s now a place to teach tangible life skills, including nutrition, responsibility and gardening skills.
Loki enjoys helping with daily chores. He maintains the greenhouse by hunting bugs, mice and insects. Chipmunks are his favorite prey.
Off to the compost area!
The Root Farm’s 40-foot climbing tower serves as a site for rappelling as well as the landing point for the 1,000-foot zip line. A unique feature is the auto belay system that allows people to comfortably and safely climb independently without a belayer.
One of the best views on the farm can be found from the 1,000-foot zip line. Equipped with adaptive equipment, many people with disabilities are able to participate in this adrenaline-filled activity.
An important part of the ecosystem, bees are often hugely undervalued in the community. At The Root Farm, the honeybees are another teaching tool, showing how our actions directly affect our environment and emphasizing the connection between humans, plants and flowers.
Queen bee, worker bees, nurse bees, field bees, drones; each has a specific part to ensure that the process works smoothly. Queen lays up to 2,000 eggs a day.
With more than a dozen different breeds of chickens, the farm has an assortment of farm fresh eggs for sale. Both duck and chicken eggs are sold to local vendors and farmer’s markets.
Freight Farms: former shipping containers turned hydroponic greenhouses. An acre of leafy greens in one container. They have several weekly contracts with local vendors and restaurants for leafy greens. They can grow all year. And this smaller area produces a greater yield.

The Root Farm’s original sugar house. The frame was built by a boy scout as his Eagle Scout project and later completed to become a fully functioning sugar house.
Local farmers used to talk about this limestone quarry and how they’d harvest it by hand to create lime.
A natural rock wall teaches people how to belay others, with two people working as a team. The lesson emphasizes communication.
The Root Farm moon gate is being built by participants in their art program.

The high ropes adaptive course inspires and challenges people to push themselves and complete the course (60 feet in the air.)
Burma Bridge.
The Action Track Chair is an all-terrain wheelchair, designed to enable the disabled community in outdoor settings, making it possible for those with limited mobility to travel through grass, mud, sand, or snow.
Kyle helping Lynne work on her archery skills.
Archery helps people with various skills: hand-eye coordination, determination, time management, problem solving, and patience. There are indoor and outdoor ranges at the farm.
This version of an Action Track Chair can move from a sitting to standing position, enabling a person to stand and maintain eye contact with others at the same level, increasing self-esteem and confidence.
Indoor riding arena with vaulting equipment.
Kyle demonstrating stretching techniques with Lynne.
Quarter Horse, Kruzer, comforts Shane who was paralyzed in a snow mobile accident.
Alexis is leading Doc. Rodger and Dan are sidewalking and assisting the rider on warmup exercises. They were working on balance as part of this gentleman’s physical therapy session. Dan is retired from the Air Force and the Navy. He is one of many veterans who turn to the Root Farm for support. The Root Farm works hand and hand with veterans and active duty military personnel from US Army Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. The Eastern Air Defense Sector has come for team building on the ropes course. The Root Farm is proud to work with active and retired military personnel.
Rodger works on Lynne’s balance with sidewalkers on either side of her to give her support and assist her in a dismount.
Frank with Sonny, a miniature horse. Sonny loves being groomed.
These troublemakers — Luna, Maximus, and Lariat — are favorites with visitors to the farm because of their adorable faces and constant need for attention … and treats!
Always curious and happy to oblige for photos!
Daisy and Darla, Charolais calves.
Apollo certainly knows how to savor every last piece of grain! The youngest of the Root Farm horses, he is known for his ridiculous antics.
And then there are the chickens. This is Scarlet, who is always camera ready.
Little Marigold, when she was a chick.
Little Marigold — not so little.
Big Brahma Mama. There are no roosters on The Root Farm. Roosters can be dominate and aggressive. So the chickens at the Root Farm are peaceful, happy, free-range hens.
The things we do to get the shot.

The ducks are notorious for making a mess of anything involving water. Every time they look at water, it’s as if they’ve never seen it and are thrilled to explore the possibilities. To earn their friendship, just bring a handful of corn. There are no male ducks at The Root Farm. Drakes, as the boys are called, are also too aggressive to the girls (hens). So it is a girls’ world in the fowl families at The Root Farm.
Bonnie, the Root Farm’s unofficial boss with an attitude, is physically involved in every aspect of daily operations, from supervising staff, managing the barn, and making sure every animal stays in their proper place!
Doc warns of a storm coming in.
Alice Root with her dogs, Gracie and Celeste.
Root Farm Board Member Carin Mei and I at The Root Farm promoting my book “Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still” in May 2007.
President of the Root Farm Board Joanie Grande, Alice Root, and Rodger Pape, with “Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still.”
The sunsets never fail to impress, regardless of the season. Good night, Root Farm.

The Root Farm is one of the largest therapeutic recreational facilities in Central New York. We believe everyone has the ability to…
People of all abilities are provided the opportunity for a transformative experience through equine, agricultural, and recreational experiences.
We provide a wide variety of educational programs that allow participants to take care of farm animals, learn to ride a horse, plant and harvest vegetables, or even soar down a 1,000-foot zip line.
We believe in immersive experiences that cultivate new skills, independence, self-worth, and a sense of responsibility.

Click here to learn more about The Root Farm.

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