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 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 are now growing on a second field and experimenting with the production and sale of “value-added” products, including pickles, jams, pesto sauce, and even goat milk-based soap. We have introduced our employees to food safety concepts and skills, and are beginning to think about how we might scale up this side of our organization, in order to be able to sell products year round, and not just during warmer weather. We now have a few dairy goats as well as a flock of chickens. We have also started a small collection of bee hives, with plans to sell honey from them in the near future. We have also recently completed construction on a greenhouse, which will allow us to start crops earlier in the year, and grow during cold months - which means employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities year round!
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.