All photos/art by Matt Kalinowski
Andrew Gray was born with a rare metabolic disorder; he’s considered developmentally disabled and autistic. He has no understanding of dangers in the environment, so would think nothing of walking in front of a moving car or playing with a piece of broken glass. “He might wrap his arms around a perfect stranger, swipe a hat off someone’s head to play with it, or slap someone as he walks by if the mood strikes,” says his mother, Deborah DeScenza. Mainstreaming or adult foster care — state-supported options for many such adults — clearly wouldn’t work for Andrew. How many other families, thought Deborah, are in the same fix?
“One of the biggest complaints of the developmentally disabled is that they’re lonely,” says Deborah. She wanted to create a place where these adults could live, work, and play together with the support of mentors. A farm seemed a safe place for someone like Andrew to connect with the rhythm of the seasons and to enjoy the satisfaction of completing a day’s chores.
When Andrew turned 16, Deborah left her teaching post at Pinkerton Academy, raised money, and bought historic Rosewald Farm just north of downtown Hillsborough, New Hampshire, in 2003. Farmsteads of New England welcomed its first residents, including Andrew, later that year. The biggest challenge of parenting a disabled child, explains Deborah, is the exhaustion of providing care around the clock. “When parents see their child flourish here,” she says, “they can finally just breathe.”
Eight one-bedroom apartments were added to the facility last year, with several more on the drawing board; the farm-stand business and a waiting list of would-be farmers are growing. Deborah now spends nights in the barn birthing baby goats, and has learned to appreciate the dirty truth behind the phrase “pig pile” through tending her own muddy herd. Her wish list has come to include things such as manure forks and Rototillers.
On a summer day, the farm is in full swing. Small groups of farmers prepare lunch, make crafts to sell, and check on the stocks of veggies at the stand. Deborah’s vision has come to abundant fruition. In rounded sprawling letters, a farmer named Dave lists “the things I like about living at Farmsteads: being able to live on my own, go to bed when I want, get up out of bed when I want, make my own meals.” Likewise, Andrew has come to savor the chore of recycling, and counts the daily sorting and the weekly trip to Hillsborough’s transfer station among his proud rituals.
Learn more: 603-464-2590; farmsteads-ne.org