TAYLOR COUNTY—A local nonprofit with a mission of helping those who with disabilities will now receive some help from the Taylor County Commission.
The Homestead Farm Center was formed in 2014 and is committed to providing a safe, nurturing environment for adults and children with disabilities to learn and work in a rural farm setting.
“My son, Isaiah, was diagnosed at age two with moderate to severe autism, and we recognized at that time, that here were very few opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work in the community after they leave the public school system,” shared Ann Burns, Director of The Homestead Farm Center. “So, we decided to do something about that.”
The center is situated on 100 acres of the historic Thomas Steele farm, adjacent to the Burns Family Farm, approximately two miles off of Route 310. According to Burns, the property, including a six-stall livestock barn was donated to the organization.
Since that time, center organizers have worked to see their dream of an organization that would help better the lives of its participants come to fruition, and in 2014, they began applying for grants to expand their facility.
“In 2017, we were able to build a 26 by 28-foot greenhouse, at a cost of $24,958, and have developed approximately two acres of handicapped accessible raised garden space around it,” Burns disclosed. “Then, in 2019, we built a 30 by 60-foot pavilion, at a cost of $35,120, with the help of many, many volunteers.”
In addition, The Homestead Farm Center installed a sheep shed and pasture that houses a small herd of sheep, which joined the ranks of chickens and horses already housed at the facility.
“This spring, we will complete a classroom building, which includes a teaching kitchen, restroom and office, at an approximate cost of $94,500,” “That excludes the cost of paving the parking lot, which we hope to complete this fall.”
Burns shared that the center is looking forward to continued growth, as their programs have already seen an increase in participation. Part of that comes from the partnerships that have been formed with the Disability Action Center (DAC), in Fairmont, as well as the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties.
“In 2020, we became a funded partner of the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties, and we receive an allocation of $3,000 a year from them,” she reported. “We also receive between $1,000-2,000 from the Marion County Commission through their outside agency allocations.”
And while most of the participation has been from Marion County residents, they hoped to be able to receive funds from the Taylor County Commission, to better serve the residents of the county.
“We are asking the commission to consider matching the funds that are received from the Marion County Commission, so that we can expand our programs to serve more Taylor County residents with disabilities,” Burns voiced. “These funds will assist with hiring additional staff and with transportation costs, to allow more participants from Taylor County to take part in our summer farm training program.”
Since 2016, The Homestead Farm Center has served over 150 individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers.
“Our programs focus not only on how to raise a garden or work with livestock, but their overall health and well-being, along with the increase in self-esteem an individual receives when they become a useful, working member of their community,” Burns commented.
Included in the programs is the Experience IT! Co-op, a collaborative effort between the center and the DAC. Through Experience IT!, trainees are able to receive a stipend while learning how to work on the farm through a 12-week program, the Rural to Urban Agriculture program.
The co-op also affords participants the opportunity to grow, prepare and take fresh produce and food staples home to their families to help provide healthy meals and safeguard their own food security.
And through the Farm Day Visitation, schools and community groups are able to visit the farm to garden, fish, explore the wildlife trail and care for livestock.
“These programs are so beneficial to these participants,” Burns voiced. “It does wonders sometimes to just get out in the sunshine and fresh air.”
Pleased with the progress that The Homestead Farm Center has already seen, the Taylor County Commission voted to help assist with their future endeavors, matching the $1,000 funding that the Marion County Commission provided.
“You all are doing an awesome job, and we are very happy to have you here in Taylor County,” asserted Commissioner Sam Gerkin. “I think this is a great program, with good people.”