- Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities
Problem or Opportunity and Justification:
In the U.S., individuals with intellectual and developmental differences (I/DD) have been historically underserved and undervalued. Despite an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce, adults with I/DD are often excluded. As a result, neurodivergent individuals have a greater unemployment rate compared to the general population.
Solution and Approach:
Care Farming is the therapeutic use of farming practices for marginalized or vulnerable groups of people. By building the Care Farming Network (CFN), agriculture in the Northeast will be diversified by providing meaningful employment and work opportunities to adults with I/DD.
The CFN Northeast project will develop a sense of connection between Care Farmers and strengthen their farm practices in order to expand employment opportunities of individuals with I/DD on their farms. To achieve this, we identified three goals.
First, the CFN will increase awareness about the unique field of Care Farming and its therapeutic benefits. We will research and identify established Care Farms and farmers, conduct site visits, and interview farmers to facilitate connections and share best practices. We will coordinate Care Farming panels at farmer conferences (Northeast Organic Farming Association, Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture) and utilize social media channels to share stories of Care Farmers, creating visuals of the benefits of Care Farming.
Second, we will build community among Care Farms in the region by hosting farm tours, farmer to farmer exchanges, and performing site visits. Training and workshops will be offered both virtually and in person.
Third, we will build capacity for meaningful employment opportunities for adults with I/DD at both established and beginning Care Farms. The CFN will identify six regional Care Farm mentors to support beginning Care Farmers. Mentoring will include consultations and site visits. We will hold a mentorship retreat where established Care Farmers will convene and establish best practices within the Care Farming community. The CFN will create a tool kit of these best practices to share with both established and beginning Care Farmers. Finally, we will develop an annual regional conference to further build on the farmer connections and education.
We anticipate 100 beginning and established Care Farmers will participate in Network activities, with 90 Care Farmers reporting that they feel more connected with other Care Farmers and have improved their work effectiveness in post-survey results. Through ongoing Network activities and the mentorship program, we will increase capacity of both established and beginning Care Farms to employ people with I/DD and provide meaningful work opportunities.
Performance targets from proposal:
25 Care Farms will join the Care Farming Network, supporting 100 total Care Farmers. Of that 100, 90 will report increased effectiveness and sense of connection, leading to the hiring of 15 additional people with intellectual and developmental differences.