Northwest Arkansas’ first pick-your-own tulip farm opened April 15, providing a family-friendly outdoor activity for locals, and employment opportunities for neurodivergent individuals.
True Colors Farm is run by PerspectAbility, a local nonprofit with the mission of building an inclusive environment where neurodivergent adults can live independently, continue their education and have access to a variety of opportunities, according to the organization.
A group of parents with neurodiverse children formed the organization after they started meeting for coffee to assess the resources available for their children in Arkansas. They discussed ways to expand available resources and help members of the neurodiverse community connect with each other, said Celeste Michaud, a founder of PerspectAbility.
The term neurodiverse refers to the spectrum of differences in neurological development present among the human population. A neurodivergent person’s neurological development is considered atypical, according to PerspectAbility. This can include individuals with diagnoses such as autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder and others.
After noticing a lack of employment options for neurodiverse individuals, Michaud and the others developed the idea of opening a tulip farm, where such individuals could work alongside the community. Michaud said she has witnessed a growing comfort and confidence level among the employees as they become better acquainted with working at the farm.
“I am seeing confidence, (and) because of that confidence, (the employees are) willing to try new things, even if it’s hard,” Michaud said, “And we’re learning to think outside the box more, like, ‘How can we accommodate and make sure this person is able to do this task with minimal help.’”
Cody Jensen, an employee at True Colors Farm, said he enjoys getting to work outside, where he wraps tulips and collects people’s entrance fees. His favorite part about the job is getting to meet and interact with new people.
“I like that a lot of people come in,” Jensen said. “I like (that I) get to hang out with friends (and) see a bunch of people.”
When the tulip farm officially opened for the first time April 15, Michaud was unsure what the level of community support would be, she said. She was pleasantly surprised to find that many customers were drawn to the tulip farm because of their support for PerspectAbility’s mission.
Hannah Martin, 22, a Rogers resident, was not familiar with PerspectAbility before going to the tulip farm, but she was excited to hear about the group’s mission and loved her experience there, she said. She thinks it is amazing that the farm not only provides employment opportunities for neurodivergent people, but also creates a platform for communication and interaction with the community that they might not have otherwise had.
“I think having the farm out there and doing what they’re doing is such a fun way to educate people,” Martin said. “I have a few neurodiverse family members myself, and it really touched me to see the beautiful commitment that they have (to their mission).”
One of the PerspectAbility founders’ key goals is to create an inclusive housing option for neurodiverse individuals. Many of the current options are run by agencies, but not every neurodivergent person qualifies for agency support. PerspectAbility members want to find solutions to fill this gap, Michaud said.
PerspectAbility promotes an environment of self-advocacy and empowerment for neurodiverse individuals to help them navigate barriers as adults, Michaud said. She is thankful PerspectAbility has the opportunity at True Colors to model an inclusive work environment for other businesses.
“Just having the opportunity to interact with the community (is valuable for neurodiverse individuals),” Michaud said. “Quite frankly, the community needs that opportunity to interact with them, because it just doesn’t happen that often.”