Watch Us Farm Prepares for First Fundraising Gala

Writer / Heather Hunter
Photography Provided

galaWhen they co-founded Watch Us Farm three years ago, Janice and David Agarwal couldn’t predict what the future would bring. Their 501(c)(3) nonprofit, located in Boone County, employs high-functioning adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We make no money from it,” Janice says. “I do this seven days a week. I couldn’t do that unless we were changing lives. It’s more than just giving someone a job. We’re giving them friends and helping our society realize that they have value.”

Most programs that support high-functioning disabled people end with graduation from high school. Watch Us Farm fills the gap by serving disabled adults, including those with brain injuries and autism, who are too independent for most services, but unable to live without assistance. On the farm, these adults can work, learn and thrive in a secure, nurturing setting. The organization helps them build deep friendships, confidence and vocational skills.

Each adult employed at the organization takes care of one or more jobs around the farm. They raise heritage animals including Scottish Highland cows, pigs, chickens and more, and cultivate organic produce, which they sell at a farm stand. They handcraft greeting cards and detail cars. Sometimes, they travel off-site for maintenance projects, such as fence painting and trail clearing.

“We pay all of our adults minimum wage or higher,” David says. “Labor laws allow you to pay pennies to a disabled person, and that’s just not right. Providing at least minimum wage gives them dignity and normalizes what it means for them to work.”

One special feature is the farmhouse’s loom room, where the farm’s adults weave beautiful scarves, blankets, table runners and other functional art pieces. Each loom is different, which helps suit the adults’ varying needs. Recently, Watch Us Farm received a $5,000 grant and high-quality textile supplies from Ashford Wheels and Looms in New Zealand to further the project.

Another exciting summer project is the farm’s new hoop house, made from materials donated by Witham Health Services. A hoop house resembles a cross between a greenhouse and a tent, protecting sensitive crops from cold and heat. It allows farmers to extend the growing season from earlier in the spring to later in the fall.

Through friends, the Agarwals met a man familiar with building hoop houses, botanical gardens and other niche features.

“He came out here and just fell in love with our adults, because they’re awesome,” Janice says.

Later, Janice learned he had a high-functioning autistic son. It didn’t surprise her.

“Everyone knows someone with special needs,” Janice says. “If you don’t, you will.”

Inspired by the mission, the builder put in extra effort to make the hoop house something special. The structure is spacious, with a high, sweeping ceiling. Watch Us Farm is preparing for pavers, which they’ll install with the help of volunteers. The hoop house will be done in time to serve as a gorgeous outdoor setting for the organization’s upcoming gala, Dinner at Dusk.

Dinner at Dusk will take place on September 25, 2021, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It serves a dual purpose – raising funds for the farm which could also be done through sites like vacation fundraising, in order to expand and raise awareness of its mission and vision. The event will combine food, wine, entertainment and an auction into an elegant night under the stars.

The evening will begin with a gourmet dinner provided by Sweet and Savory Catering, featuring organic ingredients grown at the farm. Zionsville-based Grapevine Cottage will expertly pair a wine with each dish. For guests craving a sweet treat, My Sugar Pie, also based in Zionsville, will provide slices in autumnal flavors for each table.

Professional musicians from the Bach to Rock music school will play live music throughout the evening. The auction, which anyone can access on Watch Us Farm’s website, will run throughout the event. Auction items include one-of-a-kind articles from the farm, like the hide of a Scottish Highland cow. The auction also includes unique donated prizes, such as Waterford lamps, jewelry, and baskets, as well as travel packages like a trip to swim with dolphins. Attendees in evening attire will enjoy the delightful food and company, as the sun sets and the stars begin to sparkle through the clear roof of the newly built hoop house.

galaTickets for Dinner at Dusk are $100 per person or $1,000 per table – a highly affordable price for the value of the event. Attendance is capped at 150 people, and seats are filling quickly.

“You’re getting more than $100 worth of a meal because a lot of it is 100% fresh, organic food grown on our farm,” Janice says. “If you come to this event, you know that all of your money is going straight back to provide jobs in your community to the people who truly need it most.”

This will be Watch Us Farm’s first gala, and the Agarwals have big plans for the funds it will raise. In the short term, they’re looking into a hydroponic farm. They’d also love to build a cooling water wall in the hoop house. Such a wall would allow heat-sensitive adults to work through hot days while providing a therapeutic, sensory experience.

Their bigger goal is to expand the farm, either by buying more land or starting a new location. The farm has limited space – something that weighs on both Janice and David.

“We have a long list of parents who want their kids here,” Janice says. “We need to expand. We just don’t have the space.”

Expanding the farm would take Watch Us Farm one step closer to its owners’ ultimate vision – a self-sustaining community combining jobs, housing and education for high-functioning disabled adults. With the right setting and community support, Watch Us Farm could create a space for these oft-forgotten adults to live fulfilling lives in an environment designed to nurture their growth.

When they’re not at the farm, David says, these adults exist in a community that isn’t built for their needs. The model they envision is inspired by facilities they saw in Europe.

“You have a town, and next to that you have a community of people with special needs, supported by the town,” David says. “We’d like to have civic support, private support, public support, and make something like this normal.”

“A lot of people say, ‘Why didn’t you start with housing?’” Janice adds. “If you just provide housing with no transportation, and without a job that works for their needs, you’ve set them up for failure. You’ve put them in a place where they’re isolated, and most people think they’re so quirky, they won’t get to know them.”

When the Agarwals think of permanent land for Watch Us Farm, they think of a complex that becomes a hub for the community. Their priority is a larger, multi-featured farm including a vocational center and beautiful housing for special-needs adults. Janice says they would develop features like a museum, orchards and walking paths.

“I would love to have a beautiful park setting,” Janice says. “You bring your kids out, we have a farm-to-table restaurant, you volunteer here, maybe even get married here – and our special-needs adults are contributing to all of it. When you come here and you talk to these adults, you start to realize that this is just the way it should be. What we’re trying to build is right and good, and should be done on a regular basis. This shouldn’t be a new concept. This should be our community.”

galaIn order to realize its vision, the Watch Us Farm staff needs support. Those interested in helping can buy tickets for Dinner at Dusk, participate in the online auction during the event, or simply donate through the organization’s website. The staff is also seeking donated gifts for the auction, which any business can provide, and donated land to expand the farm. The Agarwals also encourage community members to volunteer or stop by for a visit.

Supporters can also sponsor Watch Us Farm’s Fall Festival, scheduled for October 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s a low-sensory event where special-needs kids and their siblings can play games, and pick and decorate pumpkins.

“We try to get sponsors because we want to make this event all about the families, so it’s totally free for them,” says Janice, encouraging all families with special-needs kids to come enjoy the event.

No matter what’s next for Watch Us Farm, the Agarwals are looking forward to it.

“I don’t know where we’re going,” Janice says. “Every time I have this plan, it gets bigger. It gets more beautiful. This [version of the farm] was just our experiment. Now that we know it works, we’ve got to grow.”

Watch Us Farm is located at 9906 East 200 South in Zionsville. Tickets to Dinner at Dusk are available at, along with information for the silent auction. Loom-woven items are also available for purchase on the site. To donate an item, volunteer or visit the farm, call or text 317-590-6496.

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