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Meet Michelle Cait of ShemeshFarms at the Shalom Institute

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Cait.

Michelle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
We are a social enterprise began in 2013 inspired by a trip that Rabbi Bill Kaplan, Executive Director of Shalom Institute, took to Israel to explore ways that we can support inclusion in our community at the Shalom Institute. He discovered that farming and gardening was something that we could offer as employment at Shalom for young adults with special needs and diverse abilities.

We began by training a small group of 6 “Farm Fellows” young adults with autism and other special needs in farming and gardening as well as developing a product curated on our farm using herbs and citrus from our garden to sell at local farmers markets to begin our entrepreneurial venture with the mission of becoming sustainable.

Within a few years, we now have 45 young adults with special needs who work for ShemeshFarms, as well as out in the community, developing and selling our ShemeshFarms: Salt, Herb, Pepper, and Spice line.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
We have a wonderful tone at ShemeshFarms. We are a very supportive community, and we encourage creative thinking and trial and error. We definitely had hurdles and obstacles along the way, but we never gave up, and we had to be flexible with our business strategy as well as honing our product line. As we’ve scaled and continue to scale, it is always a challenge to make sure we meet deadlines and have enough inventory.

Not only are we running a business, but we are training the Farm Fellows on the job and working with them in creative ways to get the best work out of them along with making sure we foster a working community that supports growth, confidence, skill sets, and friendship.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
What’s unique about our Salt, Herb, Pepper and Spice line is that we harvest our herbs straight from our farm here in Malibu and bottle it immediately, we like to say Farm to bottle. We are organic and kosher certified and incredibly fresh and tasty. We curate our own recipes, and everyone who works for Shemesh has a lot of pride in their work and the products we make.

Beyond our product line, we work with a community of young adults who are often isolated and don’t always have the opportunity to do work that they are passionate about. Here at Shemesh, the Farm Fellows love working with the earth, being in nature, and developing our products. The Fellows can hone the skills that interest them. Some enjoy sales, others shipping and packaging, or social media, for others it’s working in the garden planting and harvesting.

The array of work choices helps the Farm Fellows exercise self – determination. We are very proud of that. We also have volunteers that work at Shemesh and help to create an integrated model so young adults with special needs can form friendships and working relationships with young adults, teens, and adults without special needs. We all learn from one another.

What were you like growing up?
I’ve always been the creative type. At a young age, I was the one coming up with a small business selling crafts, or lemonade stands, or developing an improv. Show in our living room for some of the neighborhood kids. I always loved bringing people together to share in something cool and meaningful.

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