Like the produce we grow, Bittersweet began as a seed—an idea, a vision, a dream. This seed was planted in the minds of Toledo Public School teacher Bettye Ruth Kay, the students with autism in her special education classroom, and their families.
Bettye Ruth had provided an innovative education for her students, incorporating insights from vocational programs and parents homeschooling their children on the autism spectrum. Yet, as her students began to age out of public education in the late 1970s, they were faced with limited and limiting options: institutional settings, life with aging parents, and workshop jobs.
Knowing their remarkable potential, Bettye Ruth could not bear the thought of an unfulfilling life for her students. She searched the world for inspiration and discovered Somerset Court in England. Bettye Ruth visited Somerset Court and there she found fertile soil in which to plant the seed of her vision. She was moved by the breadth of meaningful work on a farmstead (animal care, gardening, art, cooking, and more), the immediate benefits and rewards of these tasks for individuals on the spectrum, and the way that interdependence comes to life in the farmstead setting. Upon returning to Northwest Ohio, Bettye Ruth worked with her students and their families, local business professionals, and community members to found Bittersweet Farms. In 1983, our original location in Whitehouse, Ohio was established as the first farmstead program for adults with autism in the United States and the second in the world. In the decades since, Bittersweet has expanded across Northwest Ohio, opening a second farmstead in Lima in 2005 and a third in Pemberville in 2006.
Today, we provide residential, vocational, transitional, and recreational services to over 100 individuals at these three locations. To this day, many of Bettye Ruth’s students live and work at Bittersweet. Their thriving is the fruit of those early seeds, which continue to yield positive impact in the world as Bittersweet grows.
Bittersweet’s philosophy draws on its groundbreaking farmstead model and best practices for autism support. It is summarized by the acronym “M.A.P.S.":
- Meaning and Motivation
- Aerobic Activity
- Partnership and Planning
- Structure and Support