VIDEO: Alberta vegetable farm to hire adults with autism

When Karen-Ann Moore and her husband bought a quarter section of pastureland a little more than a decade ago, she soon realized she couldn’t have it all for herself.

So, she began penning a business plan, one that involves something dear to her heart. She wanted to start a vegetable farm that hires adults with autism.

Her vision will soon take shape. Starting this June, the Triple S Ranch and Market Garden, located in Winfield, Alta., will have three adults with autism as hired hands. Two will help with the garden while one will be a web analyst.

“I do want to see people make a change in the world,” Moore said during the farm’s May 3 launch event in Edmonton. “I know that sounds really airy fairy, but if I figure I can set the example, maybe someone else can take it as a proof of concept.”

Moore’s son Aidan Guerra, who has autism, was her inspiration for the initiative. She has long been advocating for the inclusion of autistic adults in the workplace.

“He (Guerra) is a completely different person when he’s out on that land, so I started to think, ‘why couldn’t we do a farm that hires people with autism?’ Everything came from there,” she said.

She pointed to statistics that show people with disabilities have a slimmer chance of getting a job. The probability of someone with a disability becoming employed can range from 30 percent to 66 percent, depending on the severity of their disability, according to Statistics Canada.

“When you live your whole life without getting a job because of a disability, it can be extremely depressing,” Moore said.

She believes the farm will be self-sustaining in the next few years. She said she’s already invested $185,000 into the farm, but will soon be crowdfunding so it can expand.

The farm will be a not-for-profit, she said. All the money flowing in will be used to pay employees and expand the farm. Products will be sold online, at markets and possibly to restaurants. Any excess product that can’t be sold will be donated to local food banks.

They’ll be farming one acre for vegetables, and a neighbour will use the rest of the pastureland for grazing. In the future, they hope they can expand the produce-side to up to five acres.

“I would love for people who are experts in this to teach their skills to the adults with autism,” she said. “For anyone who can help and is free on a Saturday or something, I would love for them to come out and teach.”

Guerra said the farm will offer a great opportunity for autistic adults to learn new skills.

“I’m hopeful more farms like this will open across Canada,” he said.

Moore has been grateful for the help she’s received. She said Knotty Pine Cabins, a homebuilding company, has significantly lowered the price for materials to build residences for the workers.

As well, she aims to run the farm on wind, solar and possibly other energy sources that come from the ground. Technology will be tested this year.

“Sustainability is really important to me,” she said.

“We want to demonstrate that we’re capable of owning a business and making it grow.”

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