Zeponic Farms Grows Food and Opportunities for Special Needs Community

Farming as a rewarding job for special needs adults

Zeponic_Farms_Full_color_logo-2.jpgZeponic Farms, a newly minted Upstart Farmer, is one of the only local farms in the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area- but that’s not the only unique aspect of this hydroponic farm.

For starters, the farm is housed in a freight container which helps control their growing environment and produce food all year long. This closed loop, high tech growing system is outfitted with high-density production equipment (i.e. ZipGrow Towers) and smart environmental controls to help maximize production and minimize errors.

But Zeponic Farms also meets a huge social need: employing and empowering the special needs population in their local community. Like all Upstart Farmers, Zach is driven by a set of strong corevalues to create a brighter future, both for people and the food they eat.
Zach Zepf, co-owner and manager of the farm, was first inspired to meet the need with a farm through his brother Nic. Nic has autism, and though very capable, is considered unemployable. Unfortunately, this is very common. “About 90% of adults with autism are unemployed,” says Zach.
But there is a solution to this problem, and Zeponic Farms is working to implement that solution. “By providing job training and future employment opportunities, Zeponic Farms is creating a brighter future for both agriculture and autism.”
The Zepfs bought the farm last August and have been learning the ropes. They’re now enjoying their first produce and preparing for their first harvests. The first harvest from the farm will go to charity, and future harvests will be sold to the dining services at the local college. College students will be able to enjoy the produce grown at Zeponic Farms.
Being a part of advanced agriculture is a meaningful and rewarding career, and bringing the autism population on board just makes it something special.” says Zach.

Starting small and scaling up

As the program gains traction, Zeponic farms plans toscale up and grow their impact.
Currently, the container farm houses 240 ZipGrow Towers, which in addition to planting benches, nutrient tanks and lighting leaves room for only a few farmers to be inside the facility at any time.
As the Zeponic program grows, Zach is looking to more farmer-friendly envrionments where he can employ even more people.He’s already gothis eye on a bigger operation, and is looking at property for a 5,000 to 10,000 square foot warehouse farm.
While identifying employment opportunities for special needs adults can bring uniquechallenge, it takes people with vision and determination like Zach to bring such powerful programs to life.
“Its a little bit tougher to create a business model and operation model for adults with special needs because every one of them is different, but that challenge is exciting we’re one of the first companies that’s doing that.
Currently, Nic and Zach manage the farm, but Zeponic farms will be interning more students through both an adult life skills program, and environmental classes with the local university. They already have a handful of students interested. If they enjoy working on the farm, then there will be employment opportunities down the road. “If not, that’s fine too,” says Zach. It’s important to the Zepfs that the interns on the farm not only have the opportunity for work, but enjoy it.

Zeponic Farms: Using innovations to grow impact

Armed withnew innovations in agriculture technology, visionaries like ZachZepf have the ability tocreate powerful win-win situtations for a varitety of stakeholders.
Not only is Zeponic Farmsemploying a population group many perceive to be “unemployable” in most occupations, they’re actively feeding people in their local community with high quality, farm-fresh produce.
Thanks to bold thinkers like Zach, the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area is creating jobs AND becoming part of anew food economy;one that’s based on transparency, quality of produce and knowing your farmer.
We’re proud to have Zach and Zeponic Farms in the Upstart Farmers network and can’t wait to see what they do next.

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