A little over a year ago on Aug. 25, a ribbon cutting was hosted at the Thomas S. Gulotta Wheatley Farms & Arts Center, located at 211 Wheatley Road in Brookville.
Wheatley Farms, operated by disability agency AHRC Nassau, is a place where children and adults of all abilities can connect with each other in nature while learning about gardening, animal care, cooking and arts, and the wider community can come to volunteer and participate in public workshops like soap making or chocolate making.
Since the ribbon cutting, more animals now call Wheatley Farms home, including chickens and ponies. Wheelchair-accessible raised garden beds have been installed in front of the Club House, where art classes and other activities, including the community workshops, are held. A gift shop within the 100-year-old greenhouse will also be revealed at the Sept. 30 Wheatley Farms Harvest Festival.
The completion of the Farmhouse, which will host art classes, indoor animals, dance classes and more, is still underway, as is the community duck pond and zen garden, as well as fencing that will help control the noise coming from the road and prevent any animals from escaping beyond the property.
“These spaces will lead to the discovery of new interests, lively hidden talents…,” AHRC Nassau CEO Stanfort J. Perry said during the ribbon cutting. “Wheatley Farms and Arts Center will offer meaningful employment and job training opportunities. The center will employ people with and without disabilities in the running of the farm. People will be supported to be successful in acquiring marketable skills and pursuing competitive employment on Long Island.”
On Aug. 31, the Syosset Jericho Tribune was given a tour of Wheatley Farms a year after attending the ribbon cutting.
During the tour, a pre-vocational group was enjoying a sunny, late morning on the patio right after completing some work around the property. They had spent the whole summer volunteering at the farm on Thursdays and learning about animal care and gardening as part of their work training program, where they go to multiple sites and learn various skills. Members of the program shared that they enjoyed learning how to take care of the animals, including the goats, ducks and the very popular pig, Caspian.
“If they express interest and they have an aptitude for it, they will then be evaluated for employment,” said Barry Donowitz, the chief administrative officer of AHRC Nassau. “We would support them in employment here, at least at minimum wage, and a job coach would assist them until they are independent. The goal would be someday they might even work elsewhere at other farms or just continue working for us.”
And even for people in the day habilitation program who may not be ready for employment, Wheatley Farms provides them a chance to get out in nature.
“It can be therapeutic,” Donowitz said, adding that students from the nearby schools will also come to the farm and learn about stewardship of the environment.
Donowitz explained that all the animals are trained to be friendly and tolerant of people.
“All of our animals are very friendly,’ Donowitz said. “Caspian came to us as a skinny little piglet, and our farm manager raised him and now he is, no pun intended, a big ham. He seems to grab all the attention. He’s grunting right now because he’s happy that we’re walking over.”
Wheatley Farms is also very efficient. During the tour, a larger composting area was being created, and Donowitz explained that all the produce that’s grown on the farm, including tomatoes and garlic, are used in culinary lessons.
“People are preparing for jobs in culinary and some people work for our culinary business,” Donowitz said. “It’s very rewarding.”
Plants and produce harvested on the property are also stored in the greenhouse, and members of the AHRC Nassau community can come and buy the plants.
Even the trails are designed so that people of all abilities could access many parts of the property, from the greenhouse and the gardens, to the Club House, which features large glass windows that look into the indoor stables.
“We knew that some people would have difficulty getting down [to the farm animals] depending on ability, or would be frightened by the animals,” Donowitz said. “So we installed two windows that are purposely low so that people can look down… Right now this [stall] is being used as feed, so that they can learn, and in the other stall, when they’re not outside, we have different animals rotate. So we’ve had our pig in here at times… There have been goats in here. We have ponies now.”
Donowitz’s first job was working at another organization doing direct care for people. He finished graduate school and became a psychologist. He then worked his way up to administration, and became the chief administrator at AHRC Nassau.
“Many of us in the field took it as a first job never intending on staying, and here I am over 30 years,” Donowitz said. “It’s a wonderful place to be… We’re very lucky to work in a very supportive organization that helps us develop [Wheatley Farms].”
Upcoming Public Programs At Wheatley Farms:
Wheatley Farms is located at 211 Wheatley Road, Brookville. Register for programs and learn more at www.ahrc.org/communityworkshops/.
Soap Making on Sept. 16 @ 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost: $31.25.
Soap Making on Sept. 21 @ 6 p.m. Cost: $31.25.
Chocolate Making on Sept. 27 @ 7 p.m. Cost: $20.
Wheatley Farms Harvest Festival on Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Rain date Oct. 7).