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Three hands holding dirt and small plants


The Farm in the Dell International Foundation has worked for nearly four decades to bring a new way of life to the developmentally disabled of the world. The Farm in the Dells, started in Montana and now found far and wide, give back to their communities in amazing ways. If you’ve never been to our farms, we invite you to visit at any time. 

We work hard to build community-based, self-supporting farming homes for the disabled. Our Foundation works to acquire land, build the home, begin the farm, and integrate the entirety into the local community in a way that is beneficial for both the community and the residents and workers at the farms.



The Farm in the Dell isn’t just a group home for the developmentally disabled, it’s a different way of living for both the residents and the community. The Farm in the Dell is an alternative to town-based group homes. The Farm provides a residential and vocational opportunity in a rural, farm-like setting for adults with developmental disabilities. It emphasizes work related to agriculture and provides important opportunities for community integration. Residents can choose to work at the Farm or in town. Likewise, those who live in town can choose to work at the Farm. The relaxed calming atmosphere is a real asset to all involved residents, workers, and staff. 

It’s so important that our residents remain vital and productive members of the community, and a Farm in the Dell is one of the best ways to achieve that goal. Our residents are given the respect they deserve, the treatment they require, the support they need and the all the love and care they could want, and in turn, they are able to help out and fulfill real needs for their communities.

The Farm in the Dell offers developmentally disabled residents lives that are fully productive and social and never marginalized. With even simple things like trips to the store, the people involved in the Farm in the Dell get to make a difference, and the residents know their neighbors, and their neighbors know them.

It truly is an uplifting place to be, and we hope to bring a Farm in the Dell to you soon!


There are Farms in the Dell all over the world, from Helena, Montana in the United States to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan! If there isn’t a Farm in the Dell near you, perhaps you’d like to help us raise one in your community.

Farm in the Dell International

Farm in the Dell International

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Meet Farm in the Dell Founder Lowell Bartels

By Brian D’Ambrosio

In the Netherlands, handicapped citizens live exclusively on open, spacious farms, where they are firmly connected to the land and its spirit. On these farms, they work, they play, and they rove among the wildflowers or livestock in safe, self-sufficient environments.  

The pervasive attitude in the United States regarding its handicapped populace is far less utopian.

“For most of them, we have no facilities to take care of them or we don’t provide them with anything to do,” said Lowell Bartels, founder of Farm in the Dell International, a program rooted in his belief that handicapped people thrive in protected places where they can maintain a job and, perhaps most importantly, a purpose.

“These are people who want to stay within the community, and they’ve got parents who just can’t take care of them any longer. But in this country we treat them as if we were still in the Dark Ages. We turn off the breakers and the lights on them and just turn on the TV.”

Farm in the Dell was first envisioned by Lowell and his wife Susan Bartels in 1978. The namesake is derived from their vision of starting a farm for disabled citizens in every dell (a small valley among the trees). The Bartels’s could never accept or reconcile with the treatment of the handicapped in the United States and they decided that if they didn’t work for them as their advocates, then who would?  

“If you don’t speak for them, who is going to?” asked Bartels, 70. “With a dell, your (adult) child is well-cared for and the (adult) child has a home until they die. When you (the parent) die, who are you going to leave your child with?  Staying home with mom and dad after they graduate is not the answer. These parents are working hard and can’t always take care of them. So what do we do? We lock them up! But here are people who wish to work, to live, to grow, and to give back to the community.”

Lowell’s actionable opportunity surfaced after he had been contacted by the parents of a handicapped adult who were worried about their son’s future. The aging couple could no longer physically or emotionally take proper care of their boy, now a full-grown adult with special needs, and they dreaded the thought of putting him into a group home or care facility or some other arrangement which would remove him from the type of quiet, country life in the Kalispell-area that he had adapted to.

“These parents came to us and they said that they needed help with their child, and that the child needed a place to live because they were too old to take care of him. We bought a farm, and by the grace of God we came up with this idea, and we put together a dell for six people, with a greenhouse, and 35 acres of land.”

The Bartels’ remodeled and added to the preexisting horse farm with an income supplemented through leasing parcels of the land to a neighboring rancher who brought in cattle, chickens and pigs.

“Both the parents and the individual are happy,” said Bartels. “They are not isolated on the farm – and that’s important to remember.”

That first dell opened back in 1986. Today, there are more than a dozen Farm in the Dell operations nationwide (most of which are located in Lowell’s home state of Montana) and even worldwide, including the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and one in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Two dells were formed to meet the specific needs of citizens afflicted with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. A future dell scheduled to open in Ronan, MT., will serve the unique requirements of autistic adults. Some of the dells maintain greenhouses of flowers and vegetables, while others raise livestock such as Miniature Hereford cattle or other domesticated animals. The Helena, MT., entity raises approximately 30,000 pounds of tomatoes annually. Farms employ their dell residents and even more handicapped non-residents with a number of options.

“All of the dells are the same in that the intent is to allow people to work and return them back to the community. They have the animals and the land, and they couldn’t be happier with life…The number one desire of every person is to be needed and to be respected for who they are, and the farms allow that to happen.”

"Let them walk outdoors and enjoy the sunshine.”

Parental involvement is critical to the advancement or preservation of a dell. Parents who endow their farmland to the creation of a dell entrust that their adult child will be cared for medically, physically, emotionally, and socially for the “lifetime of the property” (once that descendant dies, the dell remains organized and intact). After a piece of land is purchased or gifted, a board of directors is created and then an outside provider (such as West Mont for the Helena dell) is hired as the supervisor of services. Lowell, who in his lifetime has raised and taken guardianship of four disabled individuals, said that he is still working on the creation of even more future dells, including one in Lewiston. 

Lowell reiterated that the explicit intent of the dell is to allow the adult child to live on the farm for their whole life, through old age, infirmity, and even hospice.  

“People want to stay there,” said Bartels. “They are not taken. If they don’t want to be there, or if they want to work at a nursery in town, we will help them find an apartment or provide the move.  Farm life is a beautiful thing to see, like the residents walking with the cows from one pasture to another. They feed and water them, walk with them, and they can interact and bond. On the chicken farm, the girls go out every morning and night and collect eggs and feed and water them…There is a man named John on one farm who stays on the yard with the sheep for several hours at a time, petting them, combing them, and the sheep are providing this man with something to live for.”

Community interaction is nurtured on these farms during special events such as harvest day or when schoolchildren arrive for tours, or when the members sell their wares and produce during regular business hours. The proceeds collected by the residents are then put toward the cost of their own food, clothing, and general care.

“No one interacts at a group home when they are stuck in town,” said Bartels. “We are seeing a lot of fetal alcohol syndrome people, those who are 18, but have a mentality of 12. They can’t hold a job or a mortgage because their brain stopped forming at a 14-year-old level. This kind of farm can change their lives, and we have these facilities in Butte and Wisconsin. We are sitting on a time bomb with these children.  What is going to happen to them? It’s up to the parents.”

In some cases, Farm in the Dell International could provide a limited amount of startup money, especially if such funding is sorely needed. As for the creation of the physical farm and ranch buildings or other dwellings, Lowell must solicit the labor, the materials, and the cost of their construction from the community through fundraisers and other events.

“From the lumber to the builders, we do it the old-fashion way,” said Bartels. “We have to open them (the dells) as debt-free.”

To witness the miracle of flowers. To observe bright sunshine burst through the cloud cover. To watch the growing cycle of tomatoes. To comb the sheep and to collect the eggs. It’s the simplest and often most rudimentary components of existence which provide us with the strongest connections to the deep, interconnected ecosystem we inhabit. Perhaps the finest answer can be found in the most obvious locations: the soil, the greenhouse, and the calm of the earth. 

“In the Netherlands,” concluded Bartels, “all seniors and all handicapped citizens live in group homes on farms and there are no nursing homes. Quote-unquote normal people always think that they have the best answer. But the best answer is for these people to live in the country, not to sit in a nursing home, or to just sit there and die. Why do we put them away? It’s wrong. Let them walk outdoors and enjoy the sunshine.”

Farm In The Dell
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