“People used to focus on what I couldn’t do. Now, if I have a little support and training, I know I can do it.” – Josh Gibson, Old School Farm hand.
My name is Rachel Stubbs and I'm one of two managers at the Old School Farm. Before I jumped onboard the Old School Farm project, I had only the vaguest concept of who the term “adult with intellectual disabilities” might describe. I know now that this phrase broadly categorizes a population of extremely diverse individuals. Every one of the individuals I’ve met this year through the farm has his or her own unique dreams, likes, dislikes, skills, and capabilities that can only be understood by getting to know the person one on one.
Although I got to meet each of the three men who now work on the Farm because they are described as “adults with intellectual disabilities,” in each man’s case, I had to throw out my preconceptions of this classification and start from scratch, getting to know him just as I would any other coworker. And what a joy it’s been to get to know these guys.
First there was Josh. 10 months ago, before the Old School Farm was even a farm when it was just a frozen field, a bright blue tractor, and an ancient white truck with a fancy decal on the side, Josh walked in for his first day. [Side note: Slapping a fancy decal on the side of your vehicle is a sure way to make your new non-profit seem legitimate.]
People had told Mary Lindsay and me that Josh had a great sense of humor. I wasn’t sure what this meant considering he was “an adult with intellectual disabilities.” I was about to find out that Josh can cut it up with the best of them. From then on, not a day has gone by that Josh and I don’t exchange banter, find a reason to give David a hard time (and he gives it right back), or make up stories about our rooster, Foghorn, and his never-ending attempts to get out of the chicken coop to smoke a cigarette and get his cell phone back. One of the best parts about this job is that the Farm Team has become like a family (“The Funny Farm,” as Josh describes us), and we can relax and goof off just as we work hard and knock out amazing projects and grueling workdays together.
“I never thought I’d be working on a farm with vegetables. Things I used to not care about are important to me now. It’s cool seeing where all this stuff comes from and helping grow it.” – Josh
Next onboard came Jared “J-Rod” McIntosh. When I first met Jared, I saw a quiet, somewhat frail-looking young man, who mumbled very quietly, shuffled around in big shoes, and seemed painfully shy. I was worried about him working in the tough physical conditions of farm life and concerned that we wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively. Just as with Josh, I was about to have my expectations blown out of the water. Watching Jared find his place at the farm has been like watching one of those sped-up videos of a small pea shoot growing into a vine and wrapping itself completely in, over, around and through a bamboo trellis. Shy, soft-spoken Jared has become All-Star Farm-Hand J-Rod – There is no task too daunting, no wheelbarrow too heavy, no farm dog who can escape his finger-shaking reprimand, “You need to be quiet!” Even at the farmers’ market, where the most extroverted person can get overwhelmed by the people and sounds and chaos, J-Rod manages to have himself a big time, bagging veggies and smiling at customers like a pro.
“I know how to grow plants now and make soil blocks and plant seeds. I don’t think about chickens just as food. They need to be quiet.” – J-Rod
Our last employee to join the 2014 farm team was Jeremy. Jeremy is a big guy. He lumbers up and down the vegetable rows in his cover-alls and wide-brimmed hat, often chuckling and occasionally bursting out into song. The Old School’s maintenance man has taken to calling him “Big Country.” At first I was nervous around Jeremy. We were told that in past situations, Jeremy had episodes where he became frustrated and even aggressive. But by this point in the farm season, I was learning that if I simply believe the best of people, my expectations will be met and, most likely, vastly surpassed.
Sure enough, Jeremy has proved to everyone that in the warm, friendly, fresh-air-filled environment of the farm, he is a very pleasant person to be around and a hard worker at that. He especially loves packing the CSA baskets and picking tomatoes. One day when Jeremy, David, and I were picking, I was tired and grumpy and absent-mindedly popped a very red cherry tomato into my mouth. The foul rotten taste that greeted my tongue made me squeal, spit, and shake my head vigorously back and forth. Jeremy burst out into a deep belly laugh that just made the whole thing worth it. “Rachel,” he said to me, “…You a’right.”
“I love everybody. All the people out here that work with me. There it is.” - Jeremy
I never thought that my background in agriculture would open a door for me to get to know this particular community. And I bet these folks never thought any doors would be opening for them to the kind of environment we are creating together at the Old School Farm. All I know is that it’s a special place of intersection we’ve created here. I want to keep helping it grow, and help more people of all abilities tap into it.