Long a glimmer in my eye, Lonely Worm Farm is starting to emerge. Here is a glimpse of it at dawn and a letter to our neighbors, explaining a little bit about who we are and what we hope to do.
I am so happy to be sitting in the kitchen of our new home in the Hudson Valley, rain pattering on the roof and dripping from the leaves of the thick trunked maple, mist rising in the field across the lane.
My name is Eliza Factor. I am novelist and disability advocate. My husband is a lawyer and rock hound. Here is a picture of him and our three children taking a walk around the campus of my son’s boarding school. You many notice Felix’s wheelchair. That’s due to cerebral palsy. He’s autistic, too.
In preparation for when we can all live together again, we have just bought this beautiful house with the maples and the misty field. Why am I announcing this so publicly? Because we hope to start a farm that will be open to the community.
Being in a place where Felix fits in makes it easier on all of us, which is why for the past ten years, I have been involved in creating public spaces that are welcoming to everyone, no matter their disability, income level, color, culture or religion. Most of my work has been done through Extreme Kids & Crew, a Brooklyn non profit I started in 2010 that has since grown into Queens and the Bronx. It’s basically a New York City community center that brings kids with disabilities and their people together through the arts, play and conversation.
I never imagined I would be the founder of this sort of thing. By training and practice, I am a writer and artist who likes her solitude. The very idea of public speaking used to fill me with dread. But as every parent knows, your kids bring you to odd places. Good places if you are lucky. It turned out I wasn’t as shy as I had imagined myself to be, and meeting hundreds of families affected by disability and others who seemingly magically appeared to help figure out how to write grants, instruct on bylaws and put together 750-pound C stands sweetened my view of human nature. In short, the joy Extreme Kids & Crew has brought me has given me the confidence and desire to plant the seeds of a similar project here in Dutchess County.
Why Dutchess County? Felix is happier in the countryside.
In 2013, he was having such a hard time in New York City that we moved him to his present school, located on a mountaintop in New Hampshire. It was an excruciating decision for us as a family, but it turned out to be just the thing. Hawks and blueberry patches, fresh air, predictable schedules, enough space to breathe and meander. Within a few weeks, he was giggling, his eyes shining and his skin glowing in a way I hadn’t seen in ages. His well-being only improved with the passing years. As I became more familiar with the school, I began to see that its healing power rested on three things: the beauty of the mountain upon which it was situated, the lively community of students and aides, and the simple, but not easy to deliver, provision of adequate help. Felix had one-on-one assistance from when he woke in the morning to when he fell asleep at night (and, if needed, during all those times when he couldn’t sleep). This gave him a level of independence he had never experienced at home.
We had renovated our Brooklyn house so that he could live with us once he graduated, but this plan became less and less appealing the more connected and responsive he grew on the mountain. How could we bring him back to the city with its stress and stoops and lack of assistance? I began researching rural residential programs. The Camphill movement particularly impressed me. For the past eighty years, Camphill communities have successfully integrated people of all abilities on biodynamic farms, allowing everyone a chance to contribute to the growing and preparation of healthy food as well as traditional handicrafts like weaving and candle making. I toured a few and fell in love with the people, their greenhouses, tapestries and portable chicken coops. But none of the places I visited could handle someone like Felix.
Still, they had given me a vision of what a good life for our family might look like. I wouldn’t need to find him a residential program if we had our own farm. I pictured a wheelchair accessible orchard, an organic vegetable patch, goat pastures. I knew that farming isn’t easy. My mother is an organic farmer in Northern California. But I don’t mind hard work. My main concern was that Felix would feel isolated. Then it came to me: he wouldn’t feel isolated if we started a day program. We could follow Camphill’s lead and offer a slate of arts and agricultural activities for adults of all abilities. That way Felix would have company and we’d be providing something of value to the local community.
I am so excited to have arrived at the moment where we can start to turn this dream into reality. We have our land. We have our name. My husband coined Lonely Worm Farm after a sweaty jaunt collecting soil samples. For all our new property’s lush plant life, buzzing bees, and wetlands, the ground in our field is hard packed and stony. The lady at Cornell Extension instructed us to get dirt from 6-8 inches below the substrate and to make sure it was dry. The dryness part was easy. Digging down to the required level was hard. In the eight holes we dug, we only found one confused and dusty worm.
That worm needs some friends.
We are hoping to partner with a farmer who can develop and oversee the agricultural part of our program (orchards, vegetable garden, goats and chickens) and who is willing to share and teach and probably at times rethink his or her practices with a diverse community of helpers. And/or an adviser with a deep knowledge of agriculture and ecosystems in the Hudson Valley–and an enthusiasm for this sort of project. If you are that person, or know of someone who might be, please get in touch! I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or texted at 347-528-4246
Would you like more details? Here’s a ten year forecast of what we are envisioning, subject to change as more people get involved.
Phase 1: Building the infrastructure. 2020-2024
Build up soil in orchard and vegetable plots.
Clean out goat barn, fence in pastures, begin raising fiber goats.
Create composting system.
Build housing for Felix and farm helpers–volunteers and apprentices with diverse skills who will sometimes work with Felix, sometimes work on other aspects of the farm.
Plant fruit trees and crops.
Build art studios/community space.
Build wheelchair accessible paths through the forest and orchard.
Phase 2: Day Program. 2024.
Begin Farm and Arts program for adults of all abilities.
A sample schedule might look like this:
9-10 adaptive movement (qi gong, tai chi, yoga, dance)
10-12 work shift (in garden, in kitchen, in maintenance, etc)
12-1 communal lunch
1-2 free time
2-5 work shift (art studio, craft making, garden, care of animals, etc)
Friday meeting: 3-5 where everyone in the community gathers to celebrate milestones, plan projects, discuss conflicts, etc.
Days are scheduled according to the agricultural calendar. So there is more outdoors work in the summer, more craft making and art making in the winter.
Phase 3: Artist Residency. 2027.
Build guest house(s) for visiting artists working in the field of disability.
Create exposition and performance space that features art informed by disability.
Classes & Trainings
Retail–maple syrup, pick your own fruit, angora and cashmere
Possible B & B type deal at guest house
Self Direction funding / Medicaid Waiver