Bittersweet Farms began in the mind of a dedicated and activist teacher named Bettye Ruth Kay in the mid-1970s. Shortly after public law mandated equal access to an appropriate education for all persons with disabilities, Mrs. Kay was hired by Toledo Public Schools to teach a class of high school aged students with autism.
Her class began in a dark basement room below a gymnasium. The classroom quickly became her laboratory, with her students the beneficiaries of the most up-to-date research and her own innovative teaching methods. Mrs. Kay worked closely with a mother of a boy with autism. This woman, a former schoolteacher, had given up her career to home school her son in their own basement classroom.
Mrs. Kay visited and researched vocational programs and began incorporating techniques and ideas for projects into the vocational training portion of her class. Finally, she visited a farmstead community in England called Somerset Court and met with Dame Sybil Elgar, its founder.
The breadth of activity in a bucolic setting that farm living offered convinced Mrs. Kay that this was the most appropriate model for persons with autism. She realized that as her students "aged out" of school the future was bleak, consisting of a life filled with tedious, repetitious, and often specially created jobs in workshops, life with aging parents, or even placement in mental institutions. Understanding these implications and seeing her dream, she began organizing parents, professionals, and business members to develop a farm community in which persons with autism could work, play, and live and grow to their fullest potential.