Eventually, the bus stops coming. And then what?
As parents of children with developmental disabilities, we spend years preparing for that day when the school system no longer provides programming and services for our children--usually around the age of 22. What will our children do all day? Who will care for them while we are at work? Can they get a job? How will they be treated? Will they be happy?
A Farm Less Ordinary provides employment and a welcoming community to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, while sustainably growing organic food for the metropolitan DC area.
Maya Wechsler, Greg Masucci, and their children, Max and Delilah, were self-proclaimed "city people", struggling to find balance in their lives in Washington, DC. Their son, Max, is autistic and non-verbal, and has serious sensory and attention challenges that require him to be with a caretaker at all times. Eventually Maya and Greg decided to stop moving against the current, and took a giant leap, moving out to Bluemont, VA in the fall of 2014 in an attempt to create a simpler, safer, and happier home for their children.
Somewhere along the way, Maya and Greg decided that they were creating their son's "forever home", which would be a farm where he and other adults with developmental disabilities could find paid work, acceptance, and meaning. They spent their first year trying to figure out how to master country life -- a goal that appears to be a life-long project for people who reluctantly gave up their broadband Internet connections when they left the city. Greg and Maya eventually decided to step away from an increasingly complex life for a "special needs family" in the high stakes District of Columbia. Instead, they chose to create a simpler, more fulfilling, but less ordinary life in the country. They launched A Farm Less Ordinary (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) in the spring of 2016.
A Farm Less Ordinary produces vegetables grown using organic and sustainable methods, including the use of organic compost, cover crops, minimum tillage, companion cropping, and a focus on attracting pollinators and "good pests". We also enjoy growing varieties of vegetables (have you ever tried a purple carrot or a foot long green bean?) that are a little less familiar, but just as tasty, to the average grocery store shopper.
In 2015, Maya managed to grow more vegetables than she could possibly give away. That was the year she learned to farm.
- Became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and began accepting donations.
- First growing season when we worked with employees - adults with developmental disabilities from the surrounding area. These employees - or "Growers" - will always be our primary "customers". We hired five young adults with various intellectual disabilities.
- Launched a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program with delivery on Capitol Hill in DC.
- Built our own packing/cooling shed from scratch so that we could keep our veggies fresh before distributing them.
- Hired a part-time Job Coach to support our Growers in the field.
- Recruited a group of volunteers—in the dead of January—to help us build a “hoop house” that allowed us to start a huge amount of seedlings earlier in the season.
- Partnered with Loudoun Hunger Relief (LHR) and Healthworks of Northern Virginia to provide CSA boxes with fresh, nutritious produce to 25 low-income families in Loudoun County, who struggle with obesity. Continued delivering CSA shares to Capitol Hill.
- Attended a farmers market for the first time so that our Growers could--
- Practice the “art” of setting up and breaking down a table and keep our produce fresh and attractive at market
- Publicize our mission, and the importance of disability employment, with the general public
- Give our Growers a chance to practice their social and change-making skills with strangers. We have discovered that our employees absolutely love the chance to participate in the market. They work on their math and communication skills and get a change of scenery and pace from their time spent on the farm.
- Built a chicken coop, with the help of volunteers from American Woodmark company in Winchester, and started offering organic eggs for sale.
- Began work on a goat and alpaca shelter with significant support from the Leesburg Presbyterian Church. Goats and alpacas to follow!
2018 and Beyond
We have tilled an “Evaluation Field” (another acre) and planted summer and now winter cover crop to enrich the soil for planting in the spring. This new field will serve as an experimental garden where we will narrow the variety of crops grown to test our hand at developing some value-added products, and perhaps grow a crop we might distribute through wholesale. We will bring our Growers into a local restaurant kitchen to learn food safety skills and experiment with recipes for pesto sauces, pickled vegetables, and jams.
Of course, we have a long list of medium and long-term goals to work toward (buildings to construct, staff to hire, tools and equipment to buy, consumers to reach). In the meantime, we are focused on realistic and slow growth, as we figure out who we are and how we can build a tight-knit community and right-sized employment solution for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.