Hiram – Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, autism is growing at a rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate, the Autism Society estimates that the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade. Locally, the Hiram Farm Living & Learning Community is on a mission to provide meaningful work for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This organic farm is located on the southwest corner of State Route 82 and State Route 700 in Hiram, providing fresh, organic produce and handcrafted items to the local community. But more importantly, it provides training, a purpose, and a job opportunity for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Starting in 2009, the Hiram Farm began with six autistic adults by teaching them to tend livestock, raise produce, and master basic carpentry and crafting skills. Today, the program employs 24 farmers, as well as support staff of 15, including Habitation Manager Missy Bookbinder. Bookbinder has worked with individuals with special needs for most of her life. She was introduced to Hiram Farm through a previous position where she worked with one of Hiram’s farmers in a residential capacity. She witnessed how his life had been positively impacted when he joined the program. She explained, “I saw first-hand the wonderful progress he made upon starting the program at the Farm. I knew I wanted to be a part of the place that helped improve his life so dramatically.” Her positive attitude helps her guide the farmers — 21 males and three females — through their year-round, day-to day jobs at the Farm. “It’s amazing, the amount of growth we’ve seen in our farmers. I’m lucky to be able to sit in meetings with their families, and hear them share how, thanks to The Farm, their children are doing things they never dreamed would be possible.”

Throughout the year, Hiram farmers cultivate vegetables and herbs hydroponically and in outdoor gardens, selling produce at their roadside farm stand. In addition, they craft items that are offered year-round at the Farm’s gallery shop from 8 am through 4 pm, Monday through Friday. Items for sale include rag rugs and potholders, wooden furniture and birdhouses, walking sticks, soaps, body scrubs and scented candles. Homemade food items are also offered, including jam, bread mixes, eggs, and pasture-raised ground beef and pork. Proceeds from the Farm’s sales directly support program participants, providing them purposeful employment. But the rewards are so much more than just monetary.

One parent shared, “Our family is so grateful to have Hiram Farm a part of our lives. Hiram Farm offers our son and other adults with autism the opportunity to interact in a work environment and enjoy and independence that they may not be able to obtain otherwise.” Another parent shared, “Hiram Farm has been a Godsend for my son Cameron. Cam has made such great progress since his start date. The most wonderful aspect of it all is that he is doing work that is meaningful to him.”

To learn more, visit hiramfarm.org for volunteer opportunities and a donation wish list. Like them on Facebook to find out what’s available at their farm stand, like hydroponic lettuce at $2 per head, or a dozen, free-range brown eggs for just $2.50.