Bittersweet Farms trying to adapt to changes during coronavirus pandemic

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WHITEHOUSE (WTVG) - Bittersweet Farms has been a critical part of the community for decades. It was started in 1983 as the first farm-based program for adults with autism in the United States.

The usually busy working farm in Whitehouse is still operating, but it is not business as usual. There's social distancing for everyone, constant hand washing as well as cleaning. Staff members wear masks and have their temperatures taken daily.

About 20 people are part of the day program in Whitehouse, which is on hold right now. Another 50 adults live on the farm. Some of them are now back with their families, with 31 still at the farm.

Direct Support Professionals, the workers taking care of the participants daily, are the backbone of the operation, according to Bittersweet leaders. There are three shifts each day.

There is a full commercial culinary kitchen, a barn filled with animals, as well as a horticulture program where things are grown year-round from seed to harvest. However, those crops, along with baked goods and artwork done by participants, can't be sold to the public right now.

"We don't know what we'll look like when all this is said and done, we just don't," Julie Champa, development director at Bittersweet, said. "We do know that just like a lot of other non-profits and businesses, we are going to suffer a significant financial loss. There is no doubt about it."

But with continued help from the community, the life-changing farm in Whitehouse will be there for decades to come. It may just be a little different than before.

Bittersweet also operates farms in Lima and Pemberville.