Juniper Hill Farms is an independent living community of adults on the autism spectrum. These folks found me a few months ago, by way of thAutcast. We got to messaging, and turns out, they’re only a 20 minute drive from my house. So I went out to see them!
Juniper Hill consists of Diane Belnavis’s farm, her six tenants, their support people, and lots of animals. It’s not a licensed facility or a group home; it’s simply a household of people living and working together. All the residents are either on the autism spectrum or have another disability. Most are in their early 20’s and need assistance to live independently. They work on the farm, pay rent, and receive assistance from their support people several times a week.
Diane’s background is in the disabilities field, and she currently works as Housing Director for a local agency. Juniper Hill was a project she started about a year ago, as something she always dreamed of doing. Her adopted son Brent, who has autism, has lived with her family for thirty years. Juniper Hill applies her knowledge of what works, based on that professional and life experience. Her own role is one she describes as "bossy big sister," but that doesn't really do it justice. What she has built is simply incredible.
much more cooking, and much less arguing.The guys all want to tell their stories too, which they are doing through their own pages on the Juniper web site.
As for the animals, there are alpacas, which are used for fiber, cashmere goats, and big fluffy angora rabbits. There are the exotic and very loud guinea hens. And some chickens, and sheep, and pot bellied pigs, and an emu, and Kit the Chihuahua, who followed us everywhere. Feeding time is best observed from a safe distance outside the pen, because they all tend to go nutso for food.
Blankets by Brent. Dude is fast, too! He hands me a ball of yarn and motions for me to hold it while he works. I quickly find myself unwinding and unwinding continuously to keep up with him.
In the spring they’ll be planting sunflowers to sell, making birdhouses, and much more. On weekends they often have social activities, such as today's Harlem Globetrotters game which they received donated tickets for. Sunday dinner is one of the highlights of each week. Diane has all kinds of big dreams for the place. You can read all about it on her excellent blog. Very exciting stuff.
I’ve started to visit the farm once a week or so, to see where I can help out. It’s been great fun so far, and remarkable to see all that goes on. It's a place filled with stories, and I've only just begun to scratch the surface. But it's made quite an impression on me in a short time. It strikes me a peaceful place where people are allowed to just be who they are, and coexist with others who are very different.
"It just works…" Diane says. "We didn’t plan to not have a plan… it is just evolving this way." It’s that simple.
And hey, one more thing... if you need any further proof of how awesome this place is, Juniper Hill was where this Animal Collective video was filmed a few years ago. (Before a rehab project on the house, much needed after all the splattered paint and eggs!)
Photos belong to juniperhillfarms.org.
Thoughts and illustrations on living with Asperger's Syndrome.