The Farmstead Model
AuSSN has drawn significant inspiration from Bittersweet Farms in Ohio. Bittersweet Farms has been operating for 30 years using the farmstead model which it brought to the United States from Somerset Court, England. The first farm model for adults with autism was established there in 1974.
On their website, Bittersweet reflects upon the value of the farmstead model:
"Over the years, we have found that a farm setting offers rich, varied, and abundant opportunities for self-paced, distraction-free activities that are perceived as immediately meaningful by our participants. They are able to see the process of their work and are able to enjoy the product of their labor. This concrete reinforcement is a positive affirmation of their dignity and worth. Farming provides an opportunity for reciprocal partnership and community. It is a bucolic, secure, and safe environment in which individuals with challenging behaviors and limited social and communication skills can grow and develop to their fullest potential."
Once funding is secured and property is obtained, AuSSN hopes to open its first group home on the farm property by 2018. The initial farmstead residents and staff will establish the foundation for future growth as they work and learn together.
Small scale farming will begin with planting and harvesting organic herbs and vegetables. Small animals will share the property in stages. The first animals on the farm will be chickens - for their eggs - and a pair of goats as therapy pets. Vocational and Day Programs will begin as soon as possible that allow for more people to be served while the farmstead increases capacity through grants and additional fundraising efforts.
After the farmstead is established and the capacity for more residents is reached, AuSSN plans to develop a goat farming enterprise for meat and milk products to provide an income that will eventually help the farmstead to be self-sustaining.
Many of Bittersweet Farms' residents have been living and working there for 30 years and will continue to live there for the rest of their lives. Non-residential day services and supports on the Whitehouse, OH, farm, and at three sister sites in Ohio are available to support those on the waiting list. Their residential housing is at capacity but they maintain a waiting list of 200 people. Clearly, the need is great and not just in Ohio but in Pennsylvania and across the country.
LEFT: One of two newer residences at Bittersweet with 6 individual apartments and a common area.
RIGHT: The shared living room of one of the first group homes.
LEFT: "Hoop House" green house extends the growing season and the income from Community Supported Agriculture.
RIGHT: One of several looms in the craft cabin where residents participate in art therapy and create products to enjoy and sell at community fairs.
LEFT: Animals are raised as therapy pets at Bittersweet. Chickens provide eggs for the community.
RIGHT: The administration building and day program spaces.