Down on the farm: ‘Ornery’ Bittersweet Farm participants remain optimistic despite threats in funding

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Down on the farm: ‘Ornery’ Bittersweet Farm participants remain optimistic despite threats in funding

Dan Everett pets Shy before walking through the barn.

Dan Everett pets Shy before walking through the barn.

Photo by Fabian Koder

Dan Everett pets Shy before walking through the barn.

Photo by Fabian Koder

Photo by Fabian Koder

Dan Everett pets Shy before walking through the barn.

By Katie Schaffer, Photographer

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Biting wind and snow cuts across the 80-acre campus of Bittersweet Farms, but even the harshest weather will not stop its residents from getting their work done.

The kilns in the Ceramic Studio await ornaments to fuse.

Dolly the horse stirs in her stall, ready to be groomed.

Snow needs to be shoveled, wood needs to be cut, meals need to be cooked, and the greenhouse needs to be tended to.

True to its mission, Bittersweet Farms offers a multitude of services meant to positively impact the lives of people with autism. The farmstead, which was founded in 1983, provides both residential and day programs. These programs aim to support and empower its residents through activities, such as art, horticulture, woodworking and animal care.

Bittersweet and its residents, however, are currently at risk due to a federal rule that may alter their current Medicaid funding. The rule, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, relates to Bittersweet and other facilities like it, which are considered to be part of the Home and Community-Based Services program.

The residents and workers continue to put everything into their work, but the funding issue weighs on their minds.

Jamie Cummins, a day resident of approximately seven years, embraces the sense of community that Bittersweet provides with open arms. Cummins covers a lot of ground at Bittersweet as a co-secretary and member of the kitchen staff.

“I actually have high functioning autism, which is Aspergers, and it’s very hard for people to accept that I really have a disability and that I actually do need help. Because even though I have a higher functioning version of it, I still don’t exactly know how to understand it myself well enough to explain it to other people.

“So, it takes someone that just knows about it to be able to help me. And that’s very hard for me to find,” Cummins stated.

Cummins is not the only resident who cannot imagine a life or job outside of Bittersweet. Ask lifetime resident Beth Meyer where she would be without Bittersweet, and she will tell you exactly how she feels.

“I don’t wanna go down the road of (what would happen) if I couldn’t be here, because that would be devastating,” she lamented. “I don’t want that to happen. The state’s trying to do nasty stuff like that to us and we’re not gonna allow it. We’re too ornery for that.”

Meyer is another member of Bittersweet with her hands full. Her jobs on the farm include, but are not limited to, working in the Ceramic Studio, cutting grass, splitting firewood and weaving.

“That’s the whole idea; there should be choice. You choose to live here; you should get to live here,” Meyer continued.

And the people at Bittersweet choose to help any way they can. When walking into the barn, the excitement and care the individuals feel for the animals are nearly palpable. People shovel snow and sand wood with the enthusiasm provided by a life with purpose.

Workers and volunteers at Bittersweet share a similar stance on the subject. Brandon Svanberg, an employee of six years, who originally went to school for business advertising, often assists with the groundskeeping.

“Residents benefit from stuff like groundskeeping because of the connection with what they’re seeing and what they’re doing. There’s a less of a disconnect, I feel, with reality, when they’re putting their hard work into it,” Svanberg explains

When asked about his past career path, Svanberg cringes.

“I thought I would be better working with papers instead of people. I didn’t like my first job. I had to walk away,” he admits.

His new path?

“I’m looking at maybe education. I used to not really think I was a people-person. Being here, I’ve realized I like coaching. I like helping people.”

 

 

 

 

 

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