Parents hope to build farm for those with autism

GENOA – It’s every parent’s goal: to see their children healthy, happy and with a purpose.

It’s difficult under the best of circumstances, but even more so when the child is an adult with autism.

“Once the parents get older and pass away, who is going to take care of the children?” asked Ginnifer Daugherty, whose brother has autism.

Autism Speaks defines autism as “a group of complex disorders of brain development” that varies greatly from person to person. It includes difficulties with social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. According to the Autism Society, about 1.5 million Americans have some form of autism. Only 56 percent of people with autism graduate from high school; only 21 percent of adults with any disability participate in the labor force.

iMatter Farms, a group of local parents of autistic children, is hoping to develop a residential farm for autistic adults. If they can’t establish it here in DeKalb County, Lorna Lingwai said they’ll hopefully do it somewhere in northern Illinois.

“We are hoping to find a farmer to donate 10 to 15 acres and go from there,” Lingwai, the group’s treasurer and the mother of a 30-year-old son with autism, said. “I would hope to be able to find someone with a heart.”

iMatter Farms chairman Lisa Nolley said the proposed farm is modeled after one in Ohio, which she and her husband Dave – the parents of 20-year-old twins with autism – discovered by accident.

“We were just looking for different avenues,” Lisa Nolley said. “We decided a group home wasn’t the thing for us.”

They were checking the Internet when they discovered Bittersweet Farms, which was founded by Bettye Ruth Kay in 1983 near Toledo. A pioneer in the treatment of autism, Kay based her farm on Somerset Court in England, the first of its kind.

“We went and visited the farm a few years ago,” Lisa Nolley said. “It was very quiet and serene. The people who lived on the farm worked on the farm with supervision. We took the boys with us and they were extremely happy. I talked to the director and I said, ‘I want to live here.’”

According to the iMatter Farms website, the group’s mission is to “provide a variety of meaningful living, working, learning, leisure and faith-based activities in a safe and accepting farm environment, where every individual is respected as a valued and contributing community member.”

Before the group can do anything, it must establish itself as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. To raise money for the application fee, a fundraiser will be held Nov. 17 at Lingwai’s home in Genoa. Vendors such as Tupperware, Avon, Tastefully Simple and Pampered Chef will sell their items and donate all or a portion of proceeds to the group. There will also be a bake sale.

Once the group is established as a nonprofit organization, Daugherty said it can begin seeking donations and holding official fundraisers.

“We’re going to fund this with private funds,” she said. “No government money.”

Lingwai said the farm will be for any adult with autism. It could create local jobs and be good for the community in a lot of ways, she said.

“Autism touches everyone’s life whether they realize it or not,” Lisa Nolley said.

iMatter Farms Fundraiser

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17

301 S. Emmett St., Genoa

A sale of products from vendors such as Tupperware, Avon, Tastefully Simple and more. Funds raised will help offset the application cost for iMatter Farms to obtain 501c3 nonprofit status.

For more information, call 815-762-0745 or

815-757-2490 or visit

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