The SAGE Crossing Foundation was founded in February, 2007, for the purpose of creating a green-model
Massachusetts farmstead for autistic adults. SAGE was conceived as a template
that can and should be reproduced on small farms and orchards throughout Massachusetts and the United States.
The foundation was approved as a Massachusetts not-for-profit corporation on April 6, 2007, and
received its Federal tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) organization on September 14, 2007.
Since then, SAGE has expanded its goals and made significant strides toward their fulfillment.
SAGE has garnered both national and local publicity for issues surrounding adults on the autism spectrum.
Starting in 2010, and continuing through the present, we have also conducted a series of highly successful,
even inspirational, seasonal day programs that have served over 50 individual participants. We are now in the
process of establishing our first permanent day programs, using novel arrangements that we hope will develop
new pathways to create both day and residential farm-based programs.
Our Board of Trustees views the farmstead as a much-needed residential choice, supplementing traditional group homes and “shared living”
models. Though there are many good group homes and placements in Massachusetts and elsewhere, with
dedicated staff and beneficial activities, there are not nearly enough of them. Indeed, many group homes do not
even accept autistic people. And not all autistic people can function well in these residential models. Meanwhile,
finding day programs for adults with autism that provide interesting, challenging, productive, and rewarding activities is
even harder than finding a suitable residence.
Farms offer a quieter, safer environment for persons with autism; they allow many opportunities for exercise,
and daily contact with animals. By making ours a green model that includes energy-saving structures; organic
farming, nontoxic supplies and cleaning agents, and an environmentally friendly lifestyle that emphasizes re-use and recycling, we will be setting a good
example for the community. By building our programs on small working orchards and farms, we will also be able to
grow some of the farm’s food, thus saving money while promoting a healthy lifestyle. And we will be
preserving a farm – ultimately, we hope, a number of small farms and orchards – from development.
(In Massachusetts, we now have only 6,000 farms –down from 11,000 fifty years ago.)
SAGE is conceived not as an island that isolates the disabled from the community, but as a bridge to the
community: a place where people can purchase fresh produce, crafts and foods made at the farm; share
recreational facilities; and attend fairs and other events. By placing a home, workspaces, and recreational facilities
in the same location, we also believe that SAGE will provide enough cost savings compared to traditional group homes,
which require transportation to and from work or a day program, so that other costs relating to farm work will be offset, at least in part.
THE LOOMING CRISIS IN ADULT CARE FOR THE COGNITIVELY DISABLED
Many autistic people cannot get jobs in the community, or even do volunteer work – as many other disabled people
do. They may make loud noises or behave in socially unacceptable ways. (Common behaviors include
hand-flapping, head-slapping, and paper-shredding – even in public restrooms.) Some autistic adults need to be
anesthetized for even routine medical and dental procedures. Even high-functioning persons with autism can
require close supervision: they often frighten and annoy people with “inappropriate” questions and behaviors; they
have limited awareness of danger. They cannot live or work in the community without a shadow.
Country life gives such people the room to be themselves and find their own way. Farm life, and the presence
of animals, provides a salubrious environment. Rural settings are safer for autistic people, who, even as adults,
can bolt into traffic. Exercise – which calms the nervous system – becomes easy. Away from the terrors of the city, from the crowds and fluorescent lights that can make them more anxious,
people with autism are better able to manage their unusual behaviors and live productive lives.
And yet in some quarters farmsteads have been seen as a return to institutionalization. Now, when the vogue
is “independent” living – which often translates into a group home or shared living (foster care for disabled adults),
monitored more or less by staff – many disabled people and their strained, aging families, are left with unacceptable
options. Some autistic adults end up on the streets, among the homeless population. Some remain at home, even
as parents become too ill or inform to take care of them.
Our philosophy, with many of us having decades of experience raising our own autistic and cognitively disabled children, is
that interdependency is best. Our most vulnerable citizens need people around for safety and comfort. But they
also need a life that allows them to work with their strengths, and to be themselves. "Integration" is a worthy goal, but for people
with autism, integration needs to be managed with patient and loving care if it is to be beneficial rather than harmful.
Farm-based programs, which permit integration with the community, but also permit careful management of that integration, provide
an environment that can be ideal.