Watch Us Farm, a private non-profit organization located at 9906 East 200 South in Boone County, has a strong connection with Carmel and other nearby communities. The goal of the farm is to provide high functioning developmental and intellectual disabled adults with vocational training and jobs while in a supportive environment. Since it was founded in 2019 by Zionsville residents Janice Agarwal, a physical therapist, and her husband Dr. David Agarwal, who specializes in diagnostic radiology, the facility has quietly grown and expanded.
“We are only two miles away from the county border and more than 50% of our adults are from the Carmel and Westfield area,” Agarwal says. “In fact, over half our board members are from Carmel. Carmel High School does an amazing job with special needs students. Our goal is to reach high school graduates or those who age out of public school that society has left out.”
In the past year, job opportunities have expanded from farming, weeding and selling produce at local farmers markets. Some participants create greeting cards that are sold in local shops and can be purchased in large batches by special order. There is a car detailing department that offers needed service to the community, too. Textiles produced by the farm’s weaving looms are available in nearby shops and have recently gained international recognition by receiving a grant from New Zealand.
“We would like to slowly expand to manufacturing jobs such as sorting parts,” Agarwal adds. “Dave Ellison, a retired special education teacher from Wayne Township who headed up the vocational program at Ben Davis High School, has joined us. He knows what kind of life skills an adult worker needs to be successful. He can talk to different companies and assess the business to see if it would be a fit for someone.
“People are having a hard time finding employees,” she says. “A lot of companies, such as lawn care maintenance, want to hire our adults but are afraid that they won’t know what to do if things go wrong. So, we take our time bringing people on, and we take longer to teach and train. We don’t want them to fail.”
The organization is structured around a 30/60/90-day model of training. It involves matching individuals to jobs that are just right for them. In the more than two years Watch Us Farm has existed, the Agarwals have discovered that there are inside jobs and outside jobs.
“We want to avoid experiences such as a parent who came to us and said, ‘My son has had six jobs,’” Agarwal says. “Each time he was put in the wrong situation. We had one adult we were having a hard time placing. As soon as he started working outside in the fields, he began to stand up straighter and talk more. He just needed the right situation.”
Watch Us Farm eventually hopes to acquire more land and buildings as it expands. Hoop houses, a version of a greenhouse, are now being constructed on the farm which will extend the growing season plus the number of outdoor jobs and training opportunities available, no matter what the weather is. An added advantage to the structures is the minimalization of sensory issues, such as environmental noises, that autistic adults have with being outside. Additional buildings will be needed for manufacturing job training and onsite work.
Watch Us Farm is reaching out to surrounding schools to build relationships. It is hopeful that, sometime in the future, special needs adults graduating from a nearby school corporation will be able to turn to Watch Us Farm for continued vocational training and job placement. Currently, elementary school students are visiting the farm to learn about weaving and where food comes from.
There are several ways to support Watch Us Farm. Donations can be given through their secure website. Volunteers are needed to help out on projects and to head up teams for adults working throughout the community. A fundraiser, Dinner at Dusk, will be held on the farm on September 25. Tickets are $100 and will be available on the organization’s website in the near future. Highlights of the event will be an auction and sponsor tables.
“Now that COVID has [slowed down], a few companies are starting to talk with us,” Agarwal says. “Our aim is to gain employment for our adults either on site or in a business facility. Our card and textile program has been successful. People love to buy local. It was so nice to be recognized by getting the textile grant from New Zealand. Our textile workers are very talented.
“We want to become a center of excellence for vocational training and job placement. Our community of higher functioning adults with special needs is slowly growing. The talent of many of our adults is just hidden. No one has had the chance to see who they are yet.”
For more information, visit Watch Us Farm’s website, WatchUsFarm.com email email@example.com or call 317-590-6496.