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Full Spectrum Farms

By Sarah Hardy and Kristin Smith

Laughter splits in the air as colored pottery whirls in patterns everywhere in the room. You look up and see a grinning, delighted face concentrating on the project in front of her. Utterly charmed by the girl, you would never have known she had autism by the way she turns back to shape the pottery in front of her, her nimble fingers fashioning clay into art.

The vision

At Full Spectrum Farms (FSF), located in the mountains of Cullowhee, North Carolina, people who have autism are given a chance to express themselves and hopefully one day live in an environment that fully embraces their interests and strengths. Founded in 2000, Full Spectrum Farms desires to be a home in which people with autism can thrive. It aspires to be a living and working environment that respects dignity and individuality and nurtures the growth and well being of residents. Set within a secure family-like setting, it will be both a community and a part of a community. The name “Full Spectrum” comes from the idea of the autism spectrum – the range of conditions associated with autism.

The community

We sat down recently with Jane Coburn, the interim director of Full Spectrum Farms, to discuss a little more about the business. “With the recent purchase of 34 acres in Cullowhee's Wayehutta area, FSF is now able to start expanding its programming to serve more people with autism. We will be expanding our pottery program from one day to two days per week as well as adding a woodworking program and opportunities for people with autism to work in our garden.  We have opened a pottery retail shop in Dillsboro and hope to be open on Saturdays and during Dillsboro festivals. 

"It is often difficult for people with autism to find employment in the communit," Coburn added. "Full Spectrum Farms will be a place where adults with autism can learn skills in pottery, woodworking, crafts, agriculture, small animal care and retail and become a part of the larger community by providing products to the greater community and welcoming the community on the farm for trainings and tours.” Whether they are interested in art and design, agriculture, or sports management, individuals with autism can find ways to shine as the future opens its arms to them.

Spreading awareness

Full Spectrum Farms not only provides a community for people with autism; it also creates awareness through direct education in conjunction with local schools and universities.   Many people who do not know much about autism can volunteer on the farm and interact with the people there.  They may be surprised to find out just how much they have in common with the people they meet.

Volunteer opportunities

One of the many prides of Full Spectrum Farms is its beautiful handmade pottery, which is sold from a booth every year at the Mountain Heritage Festival. Customers come from all over to stop and see the designs crafted by the members of Full Spectrum Farms. It is an excellent way to spread awareness about autism, and it offers creativity and charm to the local area. Pottery volunteers often come to the pottery program to assist the individuals with autism and often end up learning more from these potters than they ever expected.

Volunteers on the farm can help in several different ways.  Students who have volunteered this year have helped in assisting residents with their pottery, designing an animal and barn center and creating an orientation manual for future volunteers. It’s a great way to bond with the members, and often you can be surprised at just how much you have in common. The staff are well trained, dedicated to a high quality of life and learning for people with autism and feel invested in the work of the farm.

For more information about the Farm, go to www.fullspectrumfarms.org.

These profiles were created by the students in Mary Adams's English 303 (spring 2010) class