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Navarro Farm In Frankfort Provides A Special Opportunity For People With Special Needs

FRANKFORT, Ill. (CBS) -- A south suburban couple admits they had no business planting crops – but their son, and a sign from above, presented a seed of opportunity last September.

As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported, Sherri and Damion Navarro turned their tiny garden into a full-fledged farm in less than a year.

When asked how much they knew about farming, the Navarros looked at each other, laughed and simultaneously said, "Nothing!"

The couple originally bought farmland in Frankfort in September 2020 to build warehouses for their environmental business equipment.

"Until someone planted a seed in our lives saying, 'Hey, we should do something for our individuals with special needs,'" Mr. Navarro explained, adding that the thought especially hit home because his son Carter is a teen with Down syndrome.

Harvesting the idea only took six months. By early summer, Navarro Farm was welcoming hordes of special needs farmers, ages 14 and up, twice a week.

"Look in between the leaves because they [beans] can sometimes hide," said Cathryn Tack from Plainfield. The 23-year-old loves the thrill of the hunt and eagerly counted her findings for our cameras.

Jack Klawitter's favorite part of farming is the good company.

"Being out here with all these people feels much better. Feels like family to me," the 15-year-old said.

Tommy, 38, squealed showing us his freshly plucked eggs from the chicken coop. His pure joy made everyone around him smile.

"When we're tired and exhausted instead of drinking a Red Bull, all we have to do is look at our farmers and how much fun their having," said Damion Navarro – who not only invested blood, sweat, and tears to create the farm but also much of his savings.

"Most individuals with special needs don't get the phone call, 'Hey let's go to the movies," Navarro said. "And we realized, if we could create an outlet and not only educate but for people to have fun, especially with the times going on now in this day and age, we figure we're doing the right thing."

Creating a whole special needs community is the long-term goal. At the very least, that would require buying more land.

"If we could get this to be a functioning farm with a sense of purpose, sustainability and housing, I think we met pretty much what every parent of special needs kind of concerns themselves with and that is, 'What happens when we're gone?'" Navarro explained.

The immediate next chapter: build two greenhouses to be able to offer programming and visits all year round.

"That's not possible without people's generous donations," said Navarro, blushing because he said he doesn't like to ask.

Also not possible: keeping all the crops alive without the help of volunteers including nearby farmers.

"Sometimes we just stand and are like, 'I can't believe we just did this,'" said Sherri Navarro.

Some of the produce picked is sold at their farmstand called "Carter's Corner" each Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Proceeds fund programs for special needs individuals.

Other bits of what these happy farmers reap is often sowed to other nonprofits – so in essence, Navarro Farm is making a difference while making a difference and living up to its slogan: A Place to Grow.

Navarro Farm visits cost $10, which goes towards the future projects we mentioned.

Interested farmers must first be registered on the organization's website.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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