ABC7 STARS: Santa Cruz woman creates farm to help people with disabilities build roots

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- As part of our commitment to Building a Better Bay Area, we're showcasing remarkable people who improve the lives of others in the community. A Santa Cruz woman named Heidi Cartan is doing just that, by making the world a more inclusive place.

What grows in the fertile soil of Common Roots Farm, stretches beyond nature's bounty. Spend a bit of time here and you'll see something else growing beneath the warm Santa Cruz sun.

Near some fields, Raul Rekow of Santa Cruz Support Living stands near a man named Thomas who has autism.

"It's been really great to see him really come to life and be in his element in a place where he can spread his wings," smiles Raul as Thomas picks up a shovel and places mulch around a growing tree.

This is a place for everyone to learn, to be loved and flourish. Raul and Thomas used to live in the East Bay but moved to Santa Cruz to be closer to the farm. The changes in Thomas are bountiful.

"Thomas has become a much more independent man. He's been more independent at home, he's able to cook and do things at home. We've been there to support him, but we find we do in a lesser and lesser role."

Though she doesn't want the recognition, Common Roots is made possible by a woman named Heidi Cartan, who, five years ago, had a big dream to give her son Noah a more meaningful life.

"He has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He's non-verbal but super social and loves to be outdoors. In this country when you turn 22 all the school-based services stop."

To fill that void, three years ago, she and 10 other couples, parents of children with disabilities banded together to buy a parcel of land. To answer an important question.

Janie Whiteford, who is president of the farm's board of directors is in a wheelchair herself.

"What are we going to do with these young adults to make their lives meaningful and something that they really love and giving them a place?"

Despite no farming background, Heidi and the team knew a farm's diverse range of jobs would help a diverse group of people.

"We've always been able to find something where they can flourish and they can be on the job and feel good about it and feel responsible for it.

The farm made special adjustments to accommodate their diverse volunteers, such as an adjustable floor so wheelchairs don't sink into the gravel and vertical towers of plants so those with mobility issues don't need to bend over.

The farm slowly grew from there. Today 25-to-50 people attend each week and more than 125-participants on special volunteer days.

But more importantly is the transformation in everyone here, disability or not.

"We have no end to dreams here!" beams Heidi.

On that list of dreams is building a residential living space for those to live and work on the farm.

If you'd like to get involved by volunteering your time or with a donation to help the non-profit farm better serve the community, go here.

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