+ By Brenda Wintrode + Photography by Mary Ella Jourdak
About a half dozen farmhands sit at café tables in a small kitchen space at Langton Green Community Farm’s Millersville ranch house. They are sorting and bagging the day’s harvest, about 50 pounds of sweet peppers, for distribution to the nonprofit’s 34 residences.
Dani Ierardi, farm program manager, who facilitates farm work programs and art classes for adults with different abilities, says everyone helps with the ever-changing list of farm chores. She considers all of the program participants part of a team, “It doesn’t matter if you have a disability,” she says through the boisterous talk of those around her. Soon, the crew will plant the fall greens. The goats, pigs, and chickens must be fed. Animal cages need to be cleaned and hen eggs collected. And that’s just some of the work undertaken on the farm.
Langton Green, first established in 1984 as an alternative to traditional institutions, bought the 13-acre property seven years ago. The residential and vocational programs provide independent living support and job training for adults with intellecutal and developmental disabilities. The farm provides a piece of the nonprofit’s mission—empowering individuals to reach their full potential through meaningful work—by teaching them all aspects of harvesting and processing food, landscaping skills, training community volunteers, and working with others. Donations supply the farm workers’ minimum-wage pay.
Director of Operations John Iaquinta says the team did their homework before diving into the nonprofit’s newest venture. He looked at similar vocational farm programs across the state and scoured the county, looking for a reasonably priced agricultural property. And he’s satisfied with the result. “I think the idea is that our folks do have something to offer,” he says. “They’re not simply an expense on a Social Security line item. . . . They’re also capable of giving back and doing for themselves.”
Each morning when Iaquinta, who oversees staff and management of the property, drives up the long, paved road to a sustainable, vocational farm in the middle of suburbia, the career human services professional smiles to himself. “I pull up the drive in the mornings . . . and still halfway giggle, sometimes,” he says. “What, just a wonderful thing.”
Plans and visions for the future of the farm acreage continue to bloom. In 2019, Annapolis-based greenspace designer Nature Sacred awarded Langton Green the first of several grants to transform a swath of back field into an outdoor performance area. Groups trained in music therapy will use the space to practice and perform concerts, with an eye on accessibility. Iaquinta also envisions performances by many groups open to the wider community. “We’re kind of dipping our toes into a lot of different pools and kind of seeing what people respond to,” he says.
Back at the livestock pens, program participant, Blair Williams, age 28, and her coworkers feed the potbelly pigs and round up the chickens. Williams, a four-year community farm veteran, has done just about every job on the farm, but her favorite job is helping her coworkers. “It feels happy inside,” she says. “I can go home, like, ‘Yes, I did this. I accomplished this job.’”
Denise Miller, day program manager, schedules workers like Williams with job coaches and plans their daily responsibilities. Miller has watched many individuals learn and grow over her 14 years with the nonprofit. Being able to see them get out and live a normal life, pack their lunch, get dirty, and go home continues to impress her.
Iaquinta says he looks forward to once again hosting the festivals, community volunteer days, and school field trips Langton Green used to have before the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered those programs. Until then, his community supports director, Diana Davis, keeps safely engaging those inside and outside the grounds. Davis says that building a community takes inviting people in and allowing them to invest a piece of themselves in a place. She believes that everyone has an innate desire to give of themselves, whether it’s building something for the farm or volunteering to pick crops. “Everybody needs a tribe,” she says.
Davis joined Langton Green while working on her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Fourteen years later, with a master’s degree and certifications in animal therapy, beekeeping, and yoga, she combines all of her skills to support the individuals at Langton Green. She uses precise language to describe the very nature of her job, emphasizing that she supports individuals at Langton Green; she does not serve them.
“If an individual comes into therapy very upset, the goats are not coming around,” she says, giving an example of how she uses livestock to support therapy sessions. The goat’s avoidance sparks a conversation. Davis then brainstorms with the person what they can do while they’re working through strong emotions. “That’s teaching coping strategies,” she says. “When you’re angry, you probably don’t want to be around anybody.” She explains that animals are the projection objects, instead of other people.
People-centered thinking runs through the veins of Langton Green and the community farm. Davis has learned through experience that new program ideas must involve the participants. “I may think an idea is great,” she says, “but if the community or the individuals that we support don’t think it’s great, it’s not going to work.”
Eventually, Langton Green plans to share a piece of its front yard with seniors who have downsized and no longer have gardens. In exchange for a few volunteer hours in Langton Green programs, seniors could grow their own vegetable patch. When Davis reached out to hear opinions from seniors who might participate, they told her that the garden beds should be raised to avoid having to get down to and up off of the ground.
Mallory Bryant makes sure that the sustainable garden grows vegetables while gauging what the workers are physically and mentally able to do to help her efforts. “In everything that I’m doing, I’m looking for opportunities for our individuals to participate,” she says. Every step in the growing process, from planting seeds to composting leftovers, becomes a learning opportunity and a potential job.
Robert Williams, age 23, works with the landscape crew, which maintains properties throughout the county. During his five-hour shift, he also collects hen eggs, cleans the livestock stalls, and gives hay to the pigs. Williams started working on the farm about a year ago and says it’s exciting because “you never know what they are going to have you do.” He likes multitasking and going with the flow. He says that people learn to work together on the farm, and the job coaches support the workers. “You work with different people, people work with you.” he explains. “They’ll help you the best they can.”
Williams has his eye on the future. He is working on getting his learner’s permit and would like to have his own place. Right now, he shares an apartment with other residents of Langton Green.
When Bryant, the farm manager, hears Williams talking about his interest in engine repair, she says that she might have a job for him this winter; there are some weed whackers that are out of commission. He answers, “I’m very good with my hands.” █
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Individuals at the Langton Green Community Farm who appear in photos are safely distanced, observing required safety and health protocols.