Janice Agarwal knows she needs more acreage to accomplish all her goals at Watch Us Farm in Zionsville, but she does the best she can with what she has.
Agarwal owns 8 acres and leases 8 acres. She uses the space to give people with special needs a place in the community.
“This was a dream of mine,” she said. “Six years ago, we bought it with this in mind.”
Agarwal discovered business model when she visited England in the early 1990s to study neuro-development training.
“In England, this is what they do,” she said. “The idea is to have a farm where the community can come in and get fresh vegetables and eat at a farm-to-table restaurant. That way, the community and the adults with special needs develop a relationship and start supporting each other.”
Agarwal was interested in creating such a business Zionsville even before she had a son with special needs.
“The truth is, what happens to kids after their parents die? The housing and jobs are so limited,” she said. “There’s so much potential in these kids that isn’t even being touched.”
Agarwal’s toughest challenge is financing Watch Us Farm, which provides adults with disabilities the opportunity to work on a community-integrated farm. She wants to purchase land to build a permanent farm campus. Until Agarwal figures out the financing platform, she is asking the business community or individuals to sponsor a person with special needs to work at the farm. Each person is paid minimum wage.
“Everyone gets paid,” Agarwal said. “They’re doing real jobs.”
In addition to farm jobs such as cleaning, weeding, planting, harvesting vegetables and caring for animals, people involved with the program also work through the Town of Zionsville.
“As we get better at doing things, the town wants to give us more,” said Agarwal, who also said the City of Carmel is interested in partnering with the organization.
Agarwal said the organization provides a place for those with special needs to live a meaningful life and be cared for even after their parents die.
“We want a safety net because these are the most awesome kids known to mankind and we work hard. We all work really hard,” she said. “The best part is, we work hard and every day we have lunch together and we watch these kids blossom.”
Alex Gilihan, 20, has participated in the program since it launched in May. He met the Agarwal family through Special Olympics of Indiana.
“I like animals,” Gilihan said. “In my family, I’m known as the animal whisperer. I love planting and picking all those fruits and vegetables.”
Boone Area Transport Service transports the kids to the farm three days a week.
Gilihan said with his paycheck, he likes to eat out and go to the movies. He’s even saving up to buy a car.
“When you look at what goes on in Europe, these kids have so much potential,” Agarwal said. “What are we doing for special needs kids? We are putting all this money into everyone but our own community.”
For more or to donate, visit watchusfarm.com.
In need of volunteers
Watch Us Farm also is looking for volunteers, specifically people with skills such as gardening or woodworking.
Janice Agarwal’s husband, David, said even if someone is unsure about volunteering for the organization, they learn to love it once they try it.
“When someone comes to a place like this and it’s a little outside of their wheelhouse, it opens their eyes to see in our community we do have people with disabilities and they can farm and take care of the streets in Zionsville,” he said. “Once they see what it’s like to work with a person with a disability, it’s all about love.”