Quality of Life Grantee Spotlight: Common Roots Farm

It felt like falling off a cliff. That’s how Heidi Cartan describes her family’s experience when her son, Noah, who was born with cerebral palsy, reached 22 years old.

common roots farm

“There is a dramatic and abrupt stop to most opportunities for engagement and community available to people with intellectual and physical disabilities. We wanted Noah’s time ahead to be as meaningful, rich, and fulfilling as possible, but the opportunities were few and far between,” says Cartan.

So Cartan and her husband, Philippe Habib, decided to bring the community to Noah. She combined her decades of human services experience with her passion for gardening to create Common Roots Farm in 2016. Located less than a mile from downtown Santa Cruz, the four-acre organic farm was built from the ground up with accessibility in mind using universal design principles.

“An eight-foot-wide path around the perimeter ensures all the animals, greenhouse, and work areas are accessible. We also created wider furrows between the planting beds,” says Cartan. “But as a working farm, the beds are 100 feet long and could feel intimidating to navigate for someone with disabilities. The farm needed a hub, an area where the community could comfortably gather and engage.”

In 2021, Common Roots Farm received a $15,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to build the Seed to Salad Garden within the farm. The garden includes a shade structure, four ADA cafe tables, six picnic tables, and garden beds that allow a wheelchair to roll into them.

“This space has become a welcoming centerpiece of our farm. The shade structure really frames the area as a focal point of farm activity,” says Cartan. “I can’t overstate how much of a difference it has made. It is huge.”

The Seed to Salad Garden includes all the same crops grown elsewhere on the farm but on a smaller, more accessible scale. More than 20 food crops, including squash, lettuce, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and 25 varieties of cut flowers, are grown on the farm for sale locally. The new space enables visitors of all abilities to help with farm activities and feel a sense of purpose.

“The farm’s goal is to include people in an intentional way, and everyone can participate in creating a better future through growing healthy foods. It is a space that breaks down barriers,” says Cartan. “Here, people with disabilities are recognized for what they can contribute toward helping to feed our community. We focus on quality, not speed.”

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After the Seed to Salad Garden was built, a shed was added to store accessible hand tools and enable more independence in the space. One participant uses a battery-powered watering can with a head switch when her class visits the farm each week. A potting area and outdoor kitchen also offer options for people of all body sizes and abilities.

“Someone needs to believe in you enough to get you started, and the Reeve Foundation did that for us,” says Cartan. “Their support has helped us leverage getting other grants to enhance the area. Everything we’ve added was only possible because of the initial space the Reeve Foundation enabled us to create.”

With room for up to 100 people to gather, Common Roots Farm has opened its accessible garden to partnerships with local day programs, post-secondary educational programs, adaptive recreation programs, and volunteer programs serving people with disabilities in the Santa Cruz and larger San Francisco Bay Area.

The farm recently launched a farm cooking class with a registered dietician. The new space is also used to host local master gardener courses, beekeepers guild meetings, potlucks, outdoor movie nights, and more.

“The Reeve Foundation grant has helped us jumpstart so many opportunities to be an asset for the local community,” says Cartan. “The foundation truly understood the impact and need for creating this space. I didn’t have to explain why it is valuable. The grant allowed us to take an idea and make it real, and we are so grateful."

Learn more about our Quality of Life Grants program at www.ChristopherReeve.Org/QOL

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.