Home > Family Services > Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism

Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism

This is a guest post by Gene Besinger. Gene is a parent advocate on issues affecting adults with autism.

“Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism” is the name of a new alliance of the two dozen or so existing agricultural communities (and several in formation) spread across the country.

For some adults with autism, agricultural communities can be a very important lifespan option that elegantly and simultaneously addresses the two largest issues facing our community: a 95% unemployment rate and severe housing challenges for many adults with autism.  These challenges were highlighted in detail by the recent Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism initiative, led by Autism Speaks and partner organizations.  If you aren’t familiar with this effort, please visit the website to learn more. (www.afaa-us.org).

Everyone in an agricultural community has an interesting, stable, meaningful job of their choice.  For example, some manage and staff community supported agriculture (CSA) programs (several of our communities have highly successful ones), there are many livestock related tasks available, some adults choose to be farmers by growing food, some maintain machinery and equipment.  All the jobs are driven by individual choice, interests, and ability.  Many of our adults enjoy an active lifestyle and outdoor tasks, some prefer indoor jobs.

Housing is also a very tough issue for adults with autism. Nearly 80% of people with autism aged 19-30 live in their parent’s home versus 32% of typical young adults. High costs and the lack of safe, good choices are a big reason why.  We can help solve this issue for some adults. But we can’t keep up with the demand.

Every single one of our communities has a huge waiting list.  Turnover rates are near zero.  We get daily inquiries from people all around the world who would like to have the option of a model like one of ours.  In spite of this huge, demonstrable demand, new agricultural communities are very difficult to get off the drawing board.   This strikes us as a big policy problem that needs fixing.

We’ve created our organization because we think there ought to be two hundred or more communities in the U.S., not two dozen.  We’re sharing best practices with one another and helping people navigate the considerable roadblocks to new community formation.

Our communities range in size from 4 to 30 beds.  Most have day programs and jobs for adults from nearby areas.  None of us are “institutional” or “congregate” in the sense of the large multi-hundred bed DD communities that many activists want to see closed down.    We cannot be large because large simply doesn’t work for most adults with autism.  In fact, many of our current residents tried that route and either didn’t do well or got kicked out due to behavioral issues.

We believe that rural community based solutions and person centric planning and funding should be available to those who want it.  Most adults in our communities live in individual apartments in a few on-site four to five bedroom single family homes.  Our sites range from a few to over a hundred acres.  Our farms and homes are mostly within walking distance to small and medium sized communities.  We’re not isolated outposts at the fringes of civilization, as some wrongly assume; we’re highly integrated members of our non-urban communities.Our residents and our many day program participants shop, recreate, worship, and interact with our neighbors on a regular basis.

If you have interest in learning more about “Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism”, please contact the folks who started it all here in the United States 25 years ago (and are still going strong), Bittersweet Farms, just outside Toledo, Ohio.  Vicki Obee-Hilty, Bittersweet’s terrific Executive Director, and her staff will put you on an email and conference call list. www.bittersweetfarms.org

Family Services provides resources and information. If you have a question, contact the Autism Response Team today. If you’re concerned that your child may be affected with autism or if you’ve received a diagnosis, browse the Tools for Families section, where you’ll find our 100 Day Kit, and the Autism Video Glossary. If you’d like to do a quick search for service providers near you, selectFind a Local Resource and browse the Resource Guide.

  1. November 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    What a WONDERFUL idea! 200 instead of 12: AWESUM!! If U need funding, I Recommend applying @ the Pepsi Refresh Project in the $250,000.00 category!!! Pepsi gives $1,300,000.00/ MONTH 2 GRRRRRRR8 ideas “Like” Urs!!!! Grants R given by # of Votes earned, so let me know if U apply & R accepted, so I can Vote 3 X/ day 4 U, & giv U pointers on HOW 2 solicit enuf Votes 2 WIN!!!!!

  2. November 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

    I will go to something sort of similar, called a workhome, in the Netherlands. It is a sheltered living and working arrangement for autistic adults. Most have huge waiting lists, but I was fortunate to get accepted to one in formation. I think it is important that adult autistics have the ability to get a meaningful job and housing with proper support.

    • Dadvocate
      November 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

      That’s terrific news, Astrid. Our group has received inquiries from Europe, Asia and many other parts of the world. In fact one of our leaders was invited to Taiwan to discuss our various approaches to agricultural communities. In the U.S., some disability advocates do not support this option but we think it’s an underutilized tool to help solve the twin problems of housing and meaningful employment for those who want a non-urban lifestyle. One of our newest organizations has an absoulutely georgeous website here:


  3. November 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

    I am very pleased to see this information. The potential for a quality adult lifestyle exists in this model. I hope that more farms are formed as word gets out.

    • Dadvocate
      November 5, 2010 at 3:31 pm

      Barbara – We have a lot of variations on the basic model but, unfortunately, not too many new communities will be built unless people are able to overcome a ton of obstacles…intitial capital raises for land purchase and construction, regulatory issues like state licensing and zoning, and the ability of residents to access waiver or other stable funding. If that weren’t enough, toss on top of that some opposition within our community to multiple bed constructs and a bias for urban or suburban solutions only, then you get a sense of how hard the roadblocks are to get around.

      This very deserving group outside Boston is struggling mightily to create a permanent community and are doing seasonal day programs in the meantime:

      But this new group was able to get it done this year:

      Besides Bittersweet, noted above, two of our oldest organizations are:

      As I studied and researched this option and visited sites, I discovered a common denominator…smiles. All around. That says a lot in my mind. If you encounter parents or adults with autism in your practice who are interested in this option, please direct them to contact http://www.bittersweetfarms.org to get on the list to receive regular updates.

      • November 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm

        TY, Dadvocate, 4 telling us about SMILES being the common thread! Made ME smile! I can’t think of a better criteria 4 judging!! :)

  4. November 5, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    The agricultural community concept fascinates me as well. I think it’s great you’re sharing best practices to facilitate expansion.

    Have you heard of the Camphill organization? http://www.camphill.org

    I wrote about them on my blog as well. http://dudeimanaspie.blogspot.com/2010/10/village-of-disappearing-differences.html

    • Dadvocate
      November 7, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      I have studied them but think they are different from our models. A lot of that has to do with staffing ratios. I like them and a some of our folks use some things from their model but it’s not a seamless translation as I see it…but I could be wrong.

      • November 9, 2010 at 5:38 am

        The Camphill model relies on idealistic young people who work instad of military and other service and for the love of hsloping ohter humdan in need. The system seems to rely on rahter high funcitoning disbaled infividuals whose self help skills are assumed adn who can get ready for breadfast and other tasks themslevesl. The fomar model for adults with autism takes into consideration those who need their everyday living siills taught and reenforced to them and in additont teaches them other skills. No one is left behind so to speak. We need to be almost one-on-one to make a differnec in the lives of those with classic autism and at the same time allow for enough choice for htose who are less needy. The big uniting factor is open space and most of our kids’ love of that space and the acitivites it affords: walking, anomial care adn work/leisur options that are nature based or craft based. Opend space allows for freedom, safety and progress within their agri;horticultural community while also offering the option for those who wish to do so to branch out into the community at large.

  1. November 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm
  2. November 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm
  3. November 7, 2010 at 5:50 am

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