Interest meeting on Monday, 26 April 2004, 7-9 pm at Guelph’s West End Zehrs, at the corner of Imperial and Paisley Roads, in the Community Room upstairs. We will show a video about Bittersweet Farms, exemplary farm community for adults with autism in Northwest Ohio, and discuss the possibilities for a farm community in our Waterloo-Wellington region. RSVP (519) 823-9232 or gbloomfi@uoguelph.ca

We do not claim that every autistic adult would find living in a farm community would suit them best. But some would, and a farm community could offer additional features and resources to help other persons and families with autism who do not actually live there. Let’s look at the potential in our region…..


A farm community might be

a) a home and way of life for adults with autism who really choose it

b) a place of work for visiting adults and co-op school students

c) a base for summer, weekend and day programs, and a place for weekend respite for children and youth

d) a node of expertise and understanding of ASD and helpful support strategies  

e) a symbol and focus for families, benefactors and the larger community

f) a model community that is ecologically responsible and also well integrated with the larger community around it

How could a farm community help people with autism?

a) space, quiet and the calm colours of land and sky

b) a more intelligible microcosm of the larger society

c) a sense of purpose working together on meaningful and necessary tasks every day and through the seasons of the year

d) observation-based research possibilities and sharing of findings

e) opportunities to develop special skills and interests in all the varied tasks of caring for the land, crops, trees and animals and in craft workshops

f) a sense of permanence and security--putting down roots

Structures and special features
Physical location and site

  • fairly close to urban centres in area of not too sparse rural population
  • some rolling terrain in an attractive landscape with potential for trails
  • some woodland and mature trees
  • sense of natural spirituality
  • combination of land types for cultivation
  • water, both surface streams and ground water for wells
  • at least 70 acres
  • freehold or very long lease
Structures and special features
  • several houses, with space for house parents (Camphill model)
  • central facility for community/service/resource/learning-teaching site (building) to serve "on-site" and "off-site” members 
  • greenhouses and workshops (wood, metal, mosaic, pottery, weaving)
  • organic gardens and diet kitchen
  • sensory integration strategies
  • a place of inspiration attracting co-workers who contribute practical skills as well as understanding and respect for each person with autism
  • individualized person-centred planning and therapeutic support
  • time and flexibility, the way of life and structures to support it evolving in parallel
  • balance between the imperatives of a farm operation and the basic needs of each person with autism
Models and References
  • Bittersweet Farms, in NW Ohio (see video) is the most mature model in North America specifically developed for adults with autism.
  • Network of International Farm Communities for Autism http://www.autismnetwork.net/history.html
  • Camphill Villages, farm communities for people with developmental disabilities and their co-workers, have a philosophical approach we can learn from, as do L’Arche communities, and the Guilford farm of David Holmes
  • Eco-villages and biodynamic farm communities offer other features. In our region: Everdale and Fourfold Farm, as well as CSA organic garden projects.

Bittersweet reviewed in general context in: Margaret A. Schneider, “In Response to Deinstitutionalization: Farm Communities as a Housing Alternative for Individuals with Autism” Journal of Leisurability, 27, 1 (Winter 2000). http://www.lin.ca/resource/html/Vol27/V27N1A2.htm

Giddan, N. S., & Giddan, J. J. (1991). Autistic adults at Bittersweet Farms. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Giddan, J. J., & Giddan, N. S. (1993). Preface. In J.J. Giddan & N.S. Giddan (Eds.), European farm communities for autism (pp. 1-9). Toledo, OH: Medical College of Ohio Press.

Other models in Europe by 1992 (Giddan & Giddan,1993) included “Ny Allerodgärd in Alleröd, Denmark, the only such project in all of Scandinavia; Dunfirth Autistic Community, Ireland's exemplary program in Enfield, County Kildare; La Pradelle a pioneering model program in Saumane, France; Hof Meyerweide, the culmination of three stages of the Bremen Project in Bremen,, Germany; Wolfheze, the first farmstead in the Netherlands for adults with autism, created as an extension of the Dr. Leo Kannerhuis project; La Garriga, the expanding program near Barcelona, Spain and Somerset Court in Somerset, England, the original farmstead for adults with autism founded in the early 1970s by Sybil Elgar. Somerset Court was inspiration and model for several of the European programs and for the ground-breaking American example at Bittersweet Farms in Whitehouse, Ohio which opened in 1983.

During 1990s, new farm communities for autism opened. In the United States: impressive programs at the Carolina Living and Learning Center near Chapel Hill, North Carolina and at The Homestead outside Des Moines, Iowa. Several were in formative stages, including Rockwood Farm of Adrian, Michigan, Pheasant Ring of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and The Adonis Family Farm of Southwest Florida. Rusty's Morningstar Ranch in Cornville, Arizona



As described in the book European Farm Communities for Autism (Giddan & Giddan, 1993, Medical College of Ohio Press), Characteristics of these farmsteads include the following:

  • Rural settings
  • Natural contexts for residential, vocational and recreational experiences
  • Interdependence between residents and staff
  • Structure, order and behavioral principles applied
  • Focus on communication
  • On-going staff training
  • Involvement with the larger community beyond the site
  • Continued family support


  • Rural settings
  • Origins with regard to timing and needs
  • Parental involvement
  • "Special" teacher
  • Government funding
  • Range of abilities among the residents selected


  • Size of the community
  • Staff training methods and procedures
  • Styles of individualized programming for residents
  • Expectations for the residents
  • Type and extent of record keeping


  • Leadership transitions
  • Long-term financial security
  • Public relations
  • Staff retention
  • Behavior management
  • Satellite settings
  • Program expansion