In light of recent events and the conversations that have followed (see Tubing While Autistic Facebook post), I feel inspired to share about a project that is slow in the making but full of energy and passion towards moving- as quickly as possible- towards becoming a reality.
I love our farm, Blawesome. I love all that it represents. I love that it has so magnificently provided Raimee with a way to engage in purposeful, positive work and has built a bridge for him to connect to our amazing community, the earth, and a deep sense of capability so very often denied to folks who are differently abled.
What I have realized over the years is that farming in NC (and likely everywhere) is hard. (More experienced farmers- feel free to sigh, laugh, and roll your eyes.) I was warned but still utterly unprepared for the amount of commitment, sweat, and organizational skills involved in this whole lifestyle of operating an agriculturally based business. And still, I love it. Passionately.
And more importantly, so does Raimee.
And this is wonderful. For us. We are a micro-enterprise making a profound impact on the life of one, young man with autism.
My hope has always been that our work would serve as a platform to inspire others to see the potential and possibility that inherently lives within all of us. And that Raimee can be an ambassador for his community of friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), as well as a light to those in our community who may have doubts or lack exposure to this type of successful business venture.
But here are a few facts:
- There are over 10,000 small farms in the NC Piedmont, making farming a very competitive and challenging market within which to achieve success as a small business.
- The NC climate, especially in July and August, can be very intense and uncomfortable for the body.
- Access to land is expensive.
- Starting up an agriculturally-based business can take years to generate profit, and
- Small farms require small-ish crews, with opportunities to scale employment quite limited, especially considering that one is a for-profit business and not a program.
How can we create opportunities for everyone to shine? Farming provides a fabulous opportunity for a few - but my macro social worker self has struggled with figuring out how to create a space within which a higher number of folks with I/DD can be seen and celebrated.
With these thoughts in mind, my husband, Keith, and I partnered with two other families to purchase a dreamy 20-acre lot off Highway 54. We have the intention of building a community-supported, mission-driven Renaissance Faire - an event that would create space for people of all abilities to come together to find belonging and acceptance, while simultaneously offering a unique framework for training individuals who want to provide meaningful direct support to folks with disabilities. (PM me if you'd like the whole scope!)
For those of you who do not live in the world of disability, I want to share that a large percentage of our loved ones need support in order to be able to move successfully through the world. And quality, empowered direct support professionals are scarce. A great number of factors contribute to this, but a BIG one is the lack of purposeful training and support.
We have curated a group of professionals who believe in this Renaissance Project: the Duke Autism Clinic, UNC TEACCH, and the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. All of whom understand that real-life, project-based training can make a tremendous difference in the longevity and quality of care provided by direct support professionals, which also means greater access to opportunities for our loved ones with I/DD. But equally important to me is having the support of our community.
As we wade through the murky waters of permitting, planning, and building, I would welcome and value your thoughts, ideas, encouragement, and volunteer support! I mention this now because, after so much time spent navigating COVID and all the peripheral, personal outcomes of that period, we are finally taking steps towards making this vision a reality.
For now, we have started the forestry management process (thank you, Orange County Forestry Management and Bobby Tucker) for an informative and energizing afternoon, and to Big Dog Little Bed Productions for finding this project worthy of a start-to-finish documentary film. And to YOU, for reading this and imagining all the ways this project could change how we experience life and live with purpose and connection.
I am so, so grateful to be able to do this work and to live in a community of thoughtful, progressively-minded individuals who celebrate diversity and deeply desire change. 💜