Watch Us Farm: Building a Future for Adults with Special Needs
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Laura Arick and Chris Howe
EDITOR’S NOTE: The print version of this article in the August issue misstated that the workers are currently living on the property at Watch Us Farm. The article has been updated in the online version. While it is a goal of Watch Us Farm to eventually provide housing for its workers, that is a future initiative and not a provided service of the organization at this time.
Did you know that just north of town is an incredible working organic farm that is tucked away from the chaotic noise of day-to-day life? On this farm are a variety of typical and atypical farm animals, such as American guinea hogs, Highland cows and guinea hens. A long gravel road leads up to a large, beautiful farmhouse that was built with love and with great purpose. I would like to introduce you to Watch Us Farm—a place where souls are nurtured, and futures are built.
Watch Us Farm’s mission is to provide adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities the opportunity to live, learn and work on a community-integrated farm. Watch Us Farm’s goals are to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for adults with disabilities and to develop meaningful, individualized job skills while building independence, friendships and a sense of belonging.
What Is Watch Us Farm?
Watch Us Farm, a 501(c)(3), was established by founders and property owners David Agarwal, M.D., FSIR, and his wife, Janice Agarwal, P.T., cNDT, who live on the farm with their sons, Sam and Alex. Having firsthand knowledge of loving and caring for a child with developmental and intellectual disabilities, the Agarwals and their supporters are on a mission to foster and grow a long-term opportunity for their son and for other young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities who would otherwise have incredibly limited opportunities post-high school.
Janice Agarwal runs Watch Us Farm along with her son, Sam, who’s a job supervisor for the farm. Sam will be attending Purdue University this fall and will be studying biomedical engineering. Agarwal’s team also includes her close friend Elaine Eriksen and intern Rachel Cundiff.
As I toured Watch Us Farm, I was greeted by several docile and curiously attentive livestock. Agarwal and her family have worked with the animals so that the adults who work and live on the farm and visitors to the farm can engage with the animals safely.
Agarwal shared that much like animals that people are unfamiliar with, people are sometimes nervous and don’t know how to act around people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Watch Us Farm is a way to not only gainfully employ and educate its young adults but is an incredible opportunity for those outside of the disabilities community to learn about and to learn from Agarwal’s young farmers as well.
Agarwal’s goal is to create more outreach opportunities in the near future. “Straight Up Ministries—a ministry established in downtown Indianapolis—wants to bring their kids out and volunteer with our young adults,” Agarwal shared. “Their kids have big hearts and want to help as a way to give back because they are grateful for the opportunities that they’ve been given. I’ve never seen high school kids work with special needs kids who haven’t had their hearts changed, so we want to create volunteer opportunities like this here at Watch Us Farm.”
A Day in the Life of a Farmer at Watch Us Farm
Currently, 3 adults with disabilities work 3-5 days a week at Watch Us Farm or on local in-town projects. The day or morning before the workers arrive, supervisors discuss strategies for each team to be successful at each task. Understanding that each job may take a bit more time to complete, the teams commit to completing each job to the same high standard expected of any contractor. In time, Watch Us Farm would like to become a residence for adults with disabilities, so that adults who live at the farm would rise early in the morning with a list of chores, such as making their beds before breakfast.
“Everyone will have a job they have to do before they even come downstairs,” Agarwal said. “Then we all have breakfast together before going out to work [on the farm]. At the end of the workday, everyone comes back, they have dinner and can go to their rooms, go outside with their friends or relax and do nothing at all—that’s their choice.”
The serene environment of Watch Us Farm provides respite after a fulfilling day of working with one’s hands and minds on the farm. It’s a beautiful escape from the chaos of life, but the reality for these young people who have come to be part of Watch Us Farm is that the world outside of the farm is not just chaotic, it can also be cruel and unwelcoming.
“When something happens, and it always does, and one of the kids starts to break down, there is always someone here to pick them up and tell them, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s OK. We’ve got this. We’ve got you.”
The Farmers at Watch US Farm earn minimum wage, not the reduced wage employers with a certificate from the Department of Labor are legally allowed to pay. Eventually, the money that the young adults on the farm earn will go toward their housing on the farm and their clothing and care. The families of these young adults are very engaged with their children, and Agarwal made it abundantly clear that this is not an opportunity for parents to drop off their kids and leave them in their rearview mirror.
Watch Us Farm is an opportunity for gainful employment, educational experiences and personal growth—it is not a place to be left behind.
“We would like for the community to realize that adults with special needs have purpose and have a lot to contribute,” Agarwal said. “We want to educate our community and Watch Us Farm is a great way to start that education process. Here on the farm, we educate the kids on how to farm and grow plants and take care of the animals. We have a saying around here that everything we do has to be ‘On time, to the highest standards, using the tools that are around us, with a really good attitude.’ Every job and every task are broken down and taught at the most basic level. Just because it’s simple to us does not mean that it is simple to these kids. Rachel [Cundiff] is helping me this summer with a series of books that I’m writing that break down each task, which is more difficult of a task than it sounds.”
As the program expands to help meet the needs of the ever-growing number of local adults with special needs, the Board of Directors of Watch Us Farm is working on fundraising. The nonprofit’s dream is to provide year-round employment opportunities for adults with disabilities on a permanent farm campus and they are looking for a donation of land on which they can build a job-training facility to teach skills for independent employment and living and for shop classes for kitchen, textile, woodworking, and automotive skills. Long term, Watch Us Farm plans to add an organic greenhouse and vegetable garden, a small fruit orchard, residential living facilities, and a farm-to-table café and a farm-to-market retail store to teach the skills involved in selling crafts and produce made by people with disabilities. Along the way, Watch Us Farm will offer opportunities for volunteer service hours to schools, churches, and civic organizations to teach our community how to work with people with special needs.
Locally, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have limited options after high school, so please consider helping Watch Us Farm with its mission to provide an opportunity for these young people to work, learn and live purposeful lives.
If you are interested in learning more about Watch Us Farm or are interested in volunteering, please visit watchusfarm.com