At their home in northern Zionsville, Janice and David Agarwal have founded Watch Us Farm, where the couple employs adults with special needs and aims to provide them with a vocation after high school.
Located at 9906 E. 200 S., Watch Us Farm is a private nonprofit that provides job opportunities for high-functioning adults with special needs. The adults learn, work and connect with each other as they tend to the farm and work with textiles, making blankets and scarves.
“We are taking that group and providing a safety net and working on behavior plans and life skills so that they can be successful,” Janice said. “What we’re finding beyond meets the expectations you would believe. We’ve got kids that have almost perfect memories. Some of these autistic kids would blow your mind with what their abilities are, but because nobody has ever taken the time to learn who they are, they are sitting in a house doing nothing — absolutely nothing. But yet we give them a job. We give them dignity, and you see a change like you’ve never seen before.”
The farm was founded in 2018. The Agarwals employ 15 adults with disabilities. They range in age from 19 to 60 and are supported by interns and volunteers.
“You see them laughing and having a good time and having real friends,” Janice said. “You see them motivated to do things. They come to work because they want to work and they want to have friends. They don’t have that at any other place because there is nothing like this.”
Janice, 59, a pediatric physical therapist and developmental and sensory specialist, said the nonprofit’s long-term objectives are to create a self-sustaining community that offers job opportunities, housing and social circles for adults with disabilities. The Agarwals were inspired by other nations, particularly in Europe, that have given adults with disabilities a vocation and dormitories that allow them to be around peers, as opposed to in the U.S., where Janice said the nation’s focus is on graduating high school, leaving parents “without hope” when their children turn 18.
The Agarwals, who purchased the property for the farm nearly eight years ago, were also inspired by their son, Alex, 21, a Zionsville Community Schools graduate, who has a disability.
“I thought I was a kind, sympathetic therapist who could understand,” Janice said. “When you have your own kid with special needs, it is gut-wrenching, and you can’t understand why. That day on, life becomes a fight.”
Janice said most people never understand how different life can be for parents of a child with special needs. She will never see her son have typical life experiences, she said. But with the couple’s efforts at the farm, they hope to change that.
“I thought these were really cool in Europe. I thought they were great,” Janice said. “We believe it’s important that a community has a place like this, that parents have hope.”
Jennifer Schwent, 47, of Westfield works at the farm as a project manager. Her son, Whitely, 18, has autism and other disabilities. The family heard of the farm and decided to volunteer until Whitley was old enough to work there.
“It gave us hope that one day there may be a place for our son to work at something he loves — not something he has to do or something that is just available for someone with his needs — and possibly a place he will be able to live,” Schwent said.
For more, visit watchusfarm.com.
Support the farm
Watch Us Farm will provide opportunities for the public to support its goals, visit its property and buy organic vegetables this summer and fall.
The nonprofit will host multiple events that founders Janice and David Agarwal say will be a way for the community to support adults with special needs. On Sept. 25, Watch Us Farm will host a fundraising event, its inaugural Dinner at Dusk Gala, from 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 25 at the farm. It will include a gourmet dinner with the farm’s food, wine pairings, live music and auctions. Tables of 10 are available.
Families with children with disabilities also are invited to pick pumpkins and play games at the farm’s free Oct. 2 fall festival. For more, visit watchusfarm.ticket.qtego.net/tickets/list.
Watch Us Farm is entirely supported by foundation, corporate and private donations and by the sale of its products.
Besides raising funds, Janice said the public events spread awareness. She said that while a person’s disability can’t be changed, the way people with disabilities are viewed can be.
“This is how we help, by educating our community who doesn’t even see these kids,” Janice said. “Then we can change the problem. We can only fix a problem once there is awareness.”
On several occasions, Watch Us Farm has invited Zionsville Community Schools elementary students to visit the property, giving young children the chance to see adults with disabilities at work.
“We invite schools because at a young age we can teach young kids that it’s OK to have special needs, that we’re all different, and that’s OK,” Janice said.