“Are You a 21st Century Pioneer?” -Nancy

Pioneer. Verb. A person who is among the first to develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity). Parent or grandparent of an individual with special needs, do you feel like a pioneer? Well, you are!

We all are! In this new world where 1 in 6 lives with a developmental disability, we are forging new paths in the areas of treatment and paving the way for our children to live full and meaningful lives. We are the 21st Century pioneers.

It’s up to us to create the world we want our children to have.  

In 2011, when my son with CTD was 14, I turned my attention to Sam’s future as an adult. And as difficult as it was to think about, what his life was going to look like without us in it. We have two older children but I never wanted to leave the care of their brother to them. This is not their cross to bear. In my line of work with Goodwill/Easter Seals, I saw, first-hand, what was available to him as an adult (living arrangements, jobs, recreation) and I wasn’t exactly pleased. 

Then one day at equine therapy, I had a revelation. Sam is happy here! He should live on a farm! At the time, we lived in the middle of a quiet suburban street, in the middle of a quiet middle-class neighborhood. My farm experience had been limited to 1 hour a week I spent with Sam at the barn. Still, something ignited in me that day that simply wouldn’t go out.

Over the next several months, God spoke to me in many different ways, each message pointing me towards Ephesians 2:10: For we are all created in Christ Jesus to do good works; which He has planned, in advance, for us to do. This verse, to me, said that everyone, regardless of ability, is here for a reason, to do good works. Sam was here to do good works. I just needed to provide the supports he needed to be successful. And why not do it on a grand scale? Affect as many lives as possible along the way?

So in 2012, my husband and I founded Good Works Farm, Inc. with the sole purpose of providing the right supports so that those with challenges could reach their goals. Still living in the suburbs and leasing a farm to provide summer camps, we trusted that our farm would come when the time was right. We held camps for 5 years on that leased farm, just waiting and trusting.

And it did. In October of 2019, we sold our 4 bedrooms, ¼ acre home in the burbs for a 2 bedroom, 9-acre farm in the country. It was a major transition for us all and I’ll admit, at first, I was questioning my sanity. Did we do the right thing? They say if you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t growing. Well, for 6 months, I felt like I was trying to wear someone else’s skin. But with spring came optimism and a chance to embrace our new surroundings. And little by little, we became more comfortable. 

And now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

This is trial by fire, we are learning as we go. I’ve never had anything more exotic than a dog and now I’m caring for a flock of chickens, 2 rabbits, and a herd of goats. I’m growing rutabagas, squash, and melons. I’m learning how to can, dry, and pickle foods. I’m designing rain barrel waterers, rotational grazing pastures, and gravity feeders. It’s scary and exciting, and exhausting all at the same time. And I’m loving every minute of it.

We are pioneers, building a farmstead community of diverse individuals who support one another to reach the goals they set for themselves. They say it takes a village and that’s exactly what we’re growing. 

Farmstead communities are popping up all over the country because parents just like us realized that nobody else was going to do it for them. We have to be brave. We have to take risks. We have to fight for what we want and then we have to work like hell to make it happen. What is your dream for your child? What would you do to make that dream come true?

If you want to learn more about Good Works Farm, visit www.goodworksfarm.org and learn more about me at www.nancybernotaitis.com.

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