March 21, 2024
A Farm Less Ordinary growers, staff, and volunteers, pose for a picture in front of a red building. They are all wearing white or grey tee shirts with A Farm Less Ordinary branding.
Every day, from Monday through Friday, between early February and late November of each year, you’ll find the growers of A Farm Less Ordinary (AFLO) at one of their two work sites in either Leesburg or Lovettsville, Virginia. On a warm Wednesday morning in March, founder and executive director Greg Masucci gives a tour of the full “life cycle” of their operation, from germinating seedlings, to planting crops, to harvesting mature vegetables.

A Farm Less Ordinary was awarded a Community Investment Fund Grant under the category for organizations serving individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in 2022. Greg was also featured in one of the videos we shared at the 2022 Raise the Region gala. “We were able to keep some of the growers employed through the off-season with that grant,” Greg explained, “which is something you always worry about, having consistent, meaningful work. Especially for people with disabilities.” He talks through other challenges people with disabilities face in terms of accessible work. Greg mentions how the statistics suggest 65% of people on the autism spectrum don’t drive. In a place like Loudoun County with less transit access compared to Arlington or DC, this could mean not only being cut off from work, but from community itself.

Deeper into the tour, Greg talks through some of the minutiae of farming— drip irrigation, water conservation, and germination— as Simon, the Farm Manager, walks by with a few of the growers en route to the field. Someone cracks a joke, and the group laughs as they get their gloves and farming tools sorted. The growers carry with them tools from numbered and named buckets. “This one of the first steps you can take, giving an individual sense of ownership, because a lot of these folks are denied that at school, wherever they’ve worked before. The first day, we say these are your tools, you have to take care of them, maintain them, and so forth.” As lines of growers disperse to their different tasks, one thing is clear: whatever individual responsibility is learned, the experience of working on the farm is collective. On the farms, everyone learns together, not despite their learning differences, but with their own individual talents and experiences that are affirmed and celebrated.

All people crave some kind of community and social belonging, and rebuilding some of that connection is a recent project of the Community Foundation. Among persons with disabilities, the unemployment rate is consistently more than double. And think back to that earlier statistic: 65% of people on the autism spectrum don’t drive. When factoring in job access, areas without public transit access, the way that Americans have built their social fabric— through the workplace— is inaccessible to far too many people with disabilities. A Farm Less Ordinary strives to build those missed connections, and guide the people they serve to fulfilling, meaningful work, and a fulfilling, meaningful community. Former growers have gone on to work programing for applications running on the Salesforce platform , as an Aircraft Marshaller (person guiding planes with orange flashlights) at Dulles Airport, and as the openers and managers of a local coffee shop, just to name a few.

As the tour wraps up, Sam, one of the growers and team leaders, finds a tuft of onion grass growing in a lettuce bed. He, Simon, and Amanda, one of the other staff members, ask a grower if they happen to know what it is. “Do you need a hint? Try sniffing it.” Sam says. The grower steps back, saying “oh wow, so that’s what baby onions look like!” A few minutes later, work stops for lunch, and the tour ends. Growers, staff, and volunteers all collect their meals and sit together. On the farm, there is no sign of a lack of belonging. There’s no shortage of laughter, and good, meaningful work. There is a community to be celebrated.

Learn more about the Community Investment Funds grants here. More information on the IDD fund is available on this page. You can visit A Farm Less Ordinary’s website and follow them on social media here.