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‘Fruits of Employment’ vineyard employs adults with autism

This is a post by Cyndi O'Bannon, disability consultant for Fruits of Employment, a first-of-its-kind initiative that strategically employs workers with autism and other disabilities at competitive agricultural sites.

Initially, Julia was hesitant to share her story and when I asked her why; she said that she didn’t feel she had a good enough story. However, Julia did tell me that what she appreciates most about working in the vineyard for Hampton Farming is that they are patient and accept who she is. She has not always found acceptance and has often felt “different.” She shared that the other companies she worked for typically assigned her to work alone and that they were not diverse in their hiring, which meant she not only worked alone, but also felt alone and different.

Julia said that working for Hampton Farming has helped her to be more respectful toward her fellow co-workers, her employer and the assigned job coach. She said, “because I am treated with more respect and dignity by my employer this has caused me to be more respectful.” She is also more tolerant of other people that experience disability.

She told me, “my supervisor tells me when I am doing a good job, this motivates me to do a good job - they are my family, I would be sad if I left Hampton Farming. I can be myself.” Julia feels that she has found a place where she can be herself and is respected for the person that she is.

When asked if she will make this her career, she said that for now this is where she wants to work. She has, however, signed up to take classes with the goal to receive certification to become a sign language interpreter. “I think it is the perfect job, it is calm. At my other jobs I was always totally exhausted.” She shared that she was constantly underweight and that she did not feel appreciated by her employers. “The respect and the work environment motivate me to come into work every day and not quit. The money helps, too!” She appreciates getting a weekly paycheck; it is much easier to manage her money.

Julia also appreciates working in a crew where everyone has the same performance expectations, sharing that in the past she felt she was held to a different standard and had to perform at a higher level than her co-workers. Hampton Farming’s management is consistently impressed by Julia’s performance; they have been since she started working at the farm in 2011. Dale Hampton, owner of Hampton Farming, said that she is an excellent worker.

Hampton Farming is a leader in the Fruits of Employment (FOE) initiative.  Hampton Farming specializes in vineyard and winery management in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.  They work with their clients in complete development of vineyard and winery properties from inception through final production of the highest quality grapes and premium quality wine. They take pride in their farming style, aiming always for sustainable farming practices and minimal use of pesticides, while producing the high quality wine grapes for which the region is famous.

Fruits of Employment (FOE) is a first-of-its-kind initiative that strategically employs workers with autism and other disabilities at competitive agricultural sites such as apple orchards and vineyards.  The visionary behind the initiative is Heather Davis, Senior Managing Director, Chief Investment Officer – Private Markets at TIAA-CREF. Heather combined her personal and professional experiences to develop an initiative that builds a new source of workers for farm managers operating TIAA-CREF agricultural investments while opening up opportunities for job seekers with disabilities who want to work in the agricultural industry.

For more information on Fruits of Employment, please contact James Emmett at james@apse.org.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.