Growing Hope Farm
On 4/24/14 a longstanding dream became a reality when we received the keys to a 58 acre farm in Swanton, Ohio. The vision my wife Laura and I had was to build a place where adults with autism could live, work and thrive in a safe environment, a place where our daughter, Mary Margaret, will find and fulfill her purpose in life. Mary Margaret is now 26 years old and was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three. The prognosis, at the time, felt like a death sentence, with the doctors providing little hope. Today, Mary Margaret, through 18 years of intense one on one Applied Behavior Analysis, is able to care for herself with little to no assistance.
Little did we know that our daughter’s diagnosis would lead to hundreds of autistic children, adults, and families being helped. From the initial parents group, to the education of multiple school systems and advocating for appropriate services, to the creation of a K-12 Charter School for autistic kids (Autism Model School of Toledo), and now Growing Hope Farm.
People with autism have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights and smells. Sensory integration difficulties can have a profound effect on a person's life. Sound and visual stimuli that are tolerated by most people cause pain, confusion and fear in people with autism. Environmental accommodations are often necessary to avoid self-injurious behaviors. A farm can help to provide a peaceful environment to minimize these negative sensory inputs.
Growing Hope Farm is a non-profit organization offering day and community services for individuals with autism. It provides a variety of meaningful living, working, learning, and leisure activities in a safe and accepting farm environment. This environment provides a domain where each individual is respected as a valued and contributing community member. Pledged never to become a sheltered setting, Growing Hope Farm allows many opportunities for the public to be integrated into the Farm experience, increasing awareness and acceptance.
One of our goals is to decrease the need for government aid or financial support. Each animal raised at the Farm generates a product for sale, donation or consumption. Activities will be centered on becoming self-sustaining and a good financial steward.
Consumers (or Farmers as we like to call them) will spend their day performing a variety of working and leisure activities both at the Farm and in the community. Utilizing self-prompting techniques, individuals are encouraged to become and remain as independent as possible. Interacting with the animals provides positive reinforcement and helps to motivate Farmers to complete their daily tasks. Research continues to support the benefits of a farm based setting for people with Autism. In the future, the addition of four supported-living homes in the rear of the property will provide residential services for sixteen people. Plans also include the opening of a community wellness center that will provide health and exercise services to both farm residents and local community.
Growing Hope Farm will provide a calming atmosphere for 25 day participants and 16 residents who will tend to the chores of the Farm. The residents and day participants will take ownership in the responsibilities of animal care, gardening, grounds keeping, and the processing of animal & agricultural products. Beyond the daily chores, a full complement of recreational activities will be available from sports, hiking, arts, and crafts. Social events will also be held to garner social interactions both amongst the Farmers and the Community
Since taking possession of the farm in April of 2014, the transformation is well underway with the help from the community and many volunteers. The Farm House was converted into the Office for the Non-Profit. The 3 ½ Garage converted into an Art Studio, complete with a kiln for creating ceramic crafts. Additional barn was built for farm equipment. Multiple Animal Pens fenced for Cows, Goats, and Chickens. A quarter acre Community Garden was created.
Getting the Farm prepared for our purpose has truly been a community effort. Many volunteer days were received with overwhelming support. They brought with them innovation, developing ideas on the fly to repurpose, reuse, and create.
As Growing Hope Farm continues to grow and mature we are confident our farmers, family, and community will be truly enriched.