It all started with a struggling photographer from Tuscan, Arizona. Woody Woodroof would remember his scruffy long hair and beard as the reason most perspective employers did not take him seriously. After weeks of search, Woodroof found a job at The Tongland Corporation, an organization dedicated to caring for the disabled. Woodruff remembers that it was then that was “enamored” by the people he worked for.
“They have a whole different viewpoint on life,” Woodroof recalls. “This is what I was trying to get out of my artwork but I was finding it here with these people.”
This three-year experience would become what volunteers, like Chris Brunch refer to as the “barstool story” that has inspired people like him to become a part of the Woodroof mission. Brunch heard the story in 2001 on a bus tour of the farm and has been a volunteer ever since.
In 1996, Woody Woodroof founded Red Wiggler Farm in Germantown, after taking classes in farming and composting. Woodroof made on $3,000 in the first year of the project. He remembers CSA customers taking pitty on him and providing him with meals and houseware.
However, when a friend invested $10,000 into the farm, Woodroof really got going.
"I felt like this door was opening and somebody was trusting me with the chunk of money to make this idea happen," Woodroof said.
Today the farm is thriving, with its funding based on donations, grants and profits from the community-supported agriculture (CSA). Included in the farm's mission is providing employment opportunities and job training for the developmentally disabled.
The farm currently employs between 12 and 16 disabled people a year, as well as providing service-learning projects for local students. However, Woodroof is working to increase that number. He has already installed a solar home and gotten the utilities in place to build a 3,000-square foot multi-use program building that would include living space, office space, a root cellar and a green house. Currently, the farm consists of five permanent employees, working in a 250-square foot milk house with faulty heating and no restrooms.
As development is underway, Woodroof said the farm is working to fundraise the $250,000 still needed to complete the project, which taken five years to fund the work so far. Major donors for the project already include The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Philip L. Graham fund and the Jerome S. and Grace H. Murray Foundation.
According to Woodroof, the new building would raise the number of available positions to 20 or 22. In addition, the house would allow Red Wiggler to employ some growers all year long, as well fostering the service-learning projects and the CSA.
But the first mission of the farm, Woodroof said, is to the growers, who's disabilities have left them few options for employment.
"Everybody has a skill set that we can put to use," Brunch said. "There's nothing more satisfying seeing one of our growers." Brunch added that integrating student leaning with job training and opportunity for the disabled helps to break down the walls of stereotype.
If school kids see disabled people being successful and independent, it helps break down stereotypes at a very young age, Brunch said. Woodroof hopes to celebrate a barn raising for the farm house by May of 2011.
Correction: the original article misspelled Woody Woodroof's name and misrepresented the size of the farm house. It also included the wrong location of Mr. Woodroof's first job. These issues have been corrected.