Our guest this week is Damion Navarro of Frankfort, IL, owner of NES Environmental, a father of three, including son Carter, who has Down Syndrome, and now a farmer! Damion and his wife, Sherri, are co-founders of Navarro Farm, a place to grow and employ people with all types of ability.
We’ll hear Damion’s and the Navarro Farm story in this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Navarro Farm – https://www.navarrofarm.org
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/damion-navarro-31314160/
CBS Story – https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2021/08/13/navarro-farm-frankfort-illinois-special-needs/
Tom Couch: To all dads raising a child with special needs, mark your calendar and plan to attend the Special Fathers Network Dad’s Virtual Conference Saturday May 14th. It’s a must attend event for dads looking to learn about the Special Fathers Network to meet other dads to gather resources, develop skills, and network with other like-minded dads. Register today at 21st century dads.org.
Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Damion Navarro: I guess you could say that we were in panic, and we were trying to seek any avenue out for Carter to receive a miracle and not have Down syndrome or not have to have open heart surgery. Needless to say, the miracle didn’t happen in Carter—but it happened in our lives. We were able to be so blessed and are today, not only with all three of our children, but with Carter being in our life, it opened up a new world to us, a world that we are so excited to be involved in and so happy to be part of.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week. Damion Navarro, owner of NES Environmental, a father of three children, and now a farmer. He is the co-founder of Navarro Farms, employing people with special needs. We’ll hear Damion’s story and more in this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: Now let’s listen to this fascinating discussion between Damion Navarro and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Damion Navarro of Frankfort, Illinois, the father of three children, owner of NES Environmental, a company that performs high quality inspections and does removal of hazardous waste material. He’s also the co-founder of Navarro Farms, a not-for-profit that employs individuals with special needs.
Damion, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Damion Navarro: Well, thank you sir. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Sherri have been married for 24 years and are the proud parents of three children, Autumn, 19, Selah, 11, and middle brother Carter, who is 17, who has Down syndrome.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Damion Navarro: Well, I originally was born and raised in Hammond, Indiana. We then located to East Chicago, Indiana. And then I eventually ended up graduating out of Griffith, Indiana.
David Hirsch: And did you have any siblings when you were growing up?
Damion Navarro: I did. I have a sister who’s three years older. Her name is Kim Navarro. and I have a brother who is three years younger, John Navarro.
David Hirsch: And out of curiosity, what does your dad do for a living?
Damion Navarro: My father, when he was employed, was a millwright in Inland Steel, which is a steel mill right there in northwest Indiana out of East Chicago, Indiana.
David Hirsch: And how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Damion Navarro: Well, it’s interesting to say the least. When I was a young kid, I would have to say my relationship was one of a child striving for a relationship. My dad was born and raised in Mexico, so he grew up in a different kind of environment, more of a harder environment than maybe we are used to here, or most people are.
So he was very stern. He was kind of frustrated with society, because as a child when he came here, he didn’t speak English. He only spoke Spanish. And it was an interesting road for my father, along with my mother, but more importantly, my father being a Latino there were a lot of struggles, and I saw that as a kid.
But he always had a strong work ethic, and I think that’s the most important thing that he tried to always instill in us, even though he wasn’t around much when he started working or whatever else he was doing.
But we always knew my father had a strong work ethic. So that was an interesting dynamic that he brought to the table, and I think all of us siblings have that similar trait.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thank you for sharing. So when you think about your dad, is there an important takeaway or story, something perhaps that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering, that you take from your dad?
Damion Navarro: Well, yeah, I say the one thing that sticks out the most is to never worry about what other people are doing. Always work as hard as you can, and never be afraid. You know, I’m kind of giggling to myself right now, because I can picture my father saying this to me.
“Never be afraid to ask a question, Mi’jito. Mijo, you always have to ask questions, because I don’t have the answers. But never be afraid to ask anyone for an answer to a question you have. And the only stupid question you’re going to have, Mijo, is the one that you don’t ask. So don’t be stupid. Ask questions.” That’s what he would always say to us.
And through that experience, after I was able to get rid of some pride and mature and become an adult—mainly when I became a husband, and more importantly a father—those walls came down of being prideful. Because I started realizing, especially when I started having a relationship with God, it was just pride that kept me from asking for help.
And once I started learning to do that, it’s amazing how many people are willing to help you. And especially a fellow man, a fellow father, a fellow husband. It’s a pretty amazing thing. And I have to admit, the only reason why we’re where we are today is not only because God is in our life, but more importantly, God put people in our lives. And he put them in there because we weren’t afraid to ask. Pretty powerful.
So that is the one thing that truly sticks out with my father. He drilled it in my head. It didn’t make sense as a kid, but it makes all the sense in the world now.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. What a great legacy from your dad, who’s still alive, right? Hopefully he can continue to enjoy the fruits of all the time and energy that he put into the work that he did, and raising you and your siblings, and is enjoying being a grandparent no doubt.
From an educational standpoint, my recollection was you attended Marine Valley Community College, as well as ITT, and although you didn’t take a degree, you had environmental classes, which eventually led to the career that you have.
And from a career standpoint, I think you also mentioned that you had considered going into the Marines, and I’m sort of curious to know, what was that fork in the road that put you down this path versus the other path?
Damion Navarro: Interesting enough, I can easily answer that. That was an easy one. When I didn’t go directly to college, right out of high school, my father had a rule: when you’re 18, you’re not allowed to live in this house. And that was the rule that he kind of grew up having, that you are now a bird with feathers and wings and you must get to flying.
So on my 18th birthday, he said, “Well, pack your bags. You’re going to have to figure something out. Go away to college, go to the Marines,” because they all served, “or go get a job. And if you live here, you’re paying rent.”
I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t kidding. I figured he wasn’t around that much, so maybe he wouldn’t notice, but he did notice. He grabbed a suitcase and actually helped me pack. So, although I thought it was a joke, it was not. I left the house and went to the marine recruiter’s office, got an application, and then I found an ad in the paper for an environmental company, and filled out an application.
On my way home to ask my dad if I could stay one more night in our house, I got a phone call from the environmental company, Delta Environmental. They got a contract out a refinery here in Romeoville, or Lamont, and they hired me on the spot. The next day I was working. And, since I was able to provide a check and rent money, my father let me stay in the basement. So that’s what allowed me to go into that environmental field.
I started removing asbestos at the age of 19, thinking I was going nowhere in life. But, since then, I’ve been doing the best I can, removing asbestos, and I stayed in the industry. Now I have a corporation, an environmental corporation that I started on my own with my wife, that’s been a blessing to us beyond what I could ever imagine.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. And speaking of Sherri, I’m sort of curious to know, how did the two of you meet and how has that transpired?
Damion Navarro: Well, the stories change a little. I like to say she heard about me because I was such a good wrestler, so of course she wanted to meet me. You know, that’s my story.
But the story is we met in a local pizza place in Griffith, Indiana. And we just knew each other. She was known as the nice, sweet Christian girl, and I was known as the boy that wanted to kiss the Christian girl, but never could. So again, we became friends.
But at the end of the day, the most powerful one and the most influential one has been my wife, Sherri. Again, she introduced me to God. She informed me that I could be something I never thought I could be. She told me I could do anything. And with her support, that’s truly why we’re where we are today. I mean, if she hadn’t come into my life, the trajectory of my life would be completely different.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. I can say with a hundred percent confidence if I did not have Peggy, who’s my wife of 38 years, in my life, I definitely would not be the person I am today. So thanks again.
So let’s switch gears and talk about special needs, first on a personal level and then beyond. So I’m sort of curious to know, prior to Carter’s diagnosis, did you or Sherri have any exposure to the special needs community?
Damion Navarro: Absolutely not. No, we didn’t. So what an eye opener and what a surprise. And we had no idea even when he was born that he was special needs. I just figured out he was a little swollen. As Asian, we have olive shaped eyes, a little. And his eyes looked a little different. I thought they were just a little more pronounced, so I had no idea.
So, no, and we didn’t do any tests or anything. We didn’t care if we had a boy or a girl—just a healthy child. So, no, we were very surprised when we started seeing some changes. Then we took him to cardiologists, and we were informed.
David Hirsch: So, at what age was that, and how was the diagnosis made?
Damion Navarro: I want to say we were probably about six to seven months in when they suggested that we get a test from the cardiologist. They found a murmur in his heart. Our pediatric doctor had heard it on a checkup. But he didn’t make mention of Down syndrome or anything else.
So we took him in and then they did a test on him. And then, I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in the cardiologist’s office, and she came in and said, “Your son was tested for extra chromosomes. He has Down syndrome, and he has atrial ventricle heart defect.”
Boy, did the floor drop out from under us. One, we didn’t even really understand Down syndrome. We knew what it is, but we were not really familiar with it. Two, atrial ventricle heart defect—what does that mean? And then she went on to explain.
And then me being the individual that I am, “What does this mean? What are percentages?” I wanted all these answers. But we didn’t get straight answers. And oh my gosh, it was a very tough moment. Now the anger came out. “Why us? Why this? This shouldn’t happen to us. Why didn’t people tell us?” You start blaming the other doctors, you start blaming the doctor who delivered Carter, and then I start blaming God, which was the biggest struggle.
But once we got our hands around it, and we were able to tame our emotions, we were able to start focusing on what needed to be done next. What do we need to do? And we realized we needed to start praying. We needed to start speaking into Carter’s life, just like we did Autumn’s life. She was born first. We needed to start focusing on the task at hand. And the task at hand was focusing on being the best parents we can be. Educating ourself, supporting our child, our family, and educating everyone around us as well.
And then, really getting deeper into God. I know I keep bringing this up, and I’m not an overly spiritual person, but through our conversation I’m starting to realize how much God plays an impact in our lives. I’m usually not referencing it this much, to be honest with you, but the reality of it is that anger made us draw closer.
We get a lot of interesting things in fear. When we found out Carter had Down syndrome, and especially the heart surgery, they were giving us 50/50 on that. “We can’t guarantee he’s going to have this surgery. He has holes in his heart, they’re pretty large, but he’s not strong enough to have surgery yet. We’re going to have to wait and see when he gets bigger.”
But they also said, “If you see anything, where he goes listless, his color tone starts changing, if it gets purple or blue, that’s an emergency. Rush him in here at the Children’s Memorial, because it’s not good.”
You leave the hospital with that information, and you’re still in panic. Every day you’re staring at your child, not appreciating him for being in front of you, but instead you’re in fear of what can happen. It kind of controlled our life for a while, in such a way that we were seeking avenues of prayer towers and other ministries to create miracles.
I don’t want to name names, but we called every ministry out there, especially if they were raising people from the dead. I mean, it got to the point to where I started seeking myself. I have tattoos on my back and, oh, that could be what’s holding the miracle back. We heard all kinds of things from all kinds of ministries—and no matter what they told us, we went and did it.
Not understanding that we were losing valuable time, instead of focusing on loving this child and appreciating the time in front of us. It took us away, and it made us have more resentment. So I guess you could say that we were in panic, and we were trying to seek any avenue out there for Carter to receive a miracle and not have Down syndrome, or not have to have open heart surgery.
And needless to say, the miracle didn’t happen in Carter, but it happened in our lives. We were able to be so blessed and are today, not only with all three of our children, but with Carter being in our life. It opened up a new world to us, a world that we are so excited to be involved in and so happy to be part of.
And it’s so needed. I wouldn’t say we’ve become powerful people, but people who want to make a difference. People that have a heart and want to play a part and need to be involved. And we feel that’s what we’ve turned into. It’s really been a positive thing in our life, not only for Carter, or not only for us, but also for our other children—to be an example, not only in our community, but to our children.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering, was there some meaningful advice you got somewhere along the way that helped put this into perspective and put you on the path you’re describing?
Damion Navarro: It was just being around other individuals with special needs and realizing, “Wait a second, we don’t have to give up. We don’t have to worry about everything. If you put the work in, things can change. Not everything’s going to change. Our life isn’t going to change.”
And then we started seeing the value of how much of a better person Carter has made us, and how we started surrounding ourselves with people who were more selfless. And understanding that through sacrifice and caring about other people’s needs, we could become better people. And that’s really what we’ve turned into and what we appreciate most on this earth is that we’re able to focus on other people’s needs instead of our wants, and watching everyone be blessed during that process.
So now we’re almost addicted. We love doing it. And it all started because of Carter. You know, it’s interesting being around individuals with special needs, regardless of what those needs are. I love being around our individuals and that’s why I just love being at the farm.
I just hang out with them. I’m probably there too much instead of taking care of my own business, because you’re around a group of people who look at the best in you, and there’s no judgment, and they’re just happy to be with you.
I think my niece said it best. We have a niece who came in to watch Carter’s baseball game a couple of years ago. Her name’s Aubriano. She’s happens to be in town spending time with Carter, right now as we speak. Aubriano went to this baseball game where Carter was with all his buddies with special needs—autism, Down syndrome, and other diagnoses—and they’re all celebrating each other. They’re playing baseball, they’re having fun. They’re celebrating each other, embracing each other, encouraging each other on.
Well, on the ride home, my niece started crying to me and Sherri, my wife, and she goes, “Auntie, Uncle, I think we’re the ones with the problem. We’re the ones that need help, not them, because if we could all be like them….” And she’s crying, sharing this story with us. “If we could just all be like them, we would all be in a better place. There wouldn’t be as much hatred. Why can’t everyone support each other like they support each other?”
And then it’s situations like that that just really hit home, and we continue to see that now with this farm. We see it on a regular basis. So, yeah, it’s just, this has been an interesting road from the hurts, from the anger, to the blessings and the excitement and joy and growth that we have as individuals.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. I’ve heard it phrased that there’s a purpose in the pain, right? You don’t know why you’re going through something at the time or how it’s going to pan out. But you can look back and say, “Oh, now I understand. I can see there was a purpose to all this.”
And I’m sort of curious to know what impact Carter’s situation has had on his siblings, or the rest of your family, your extended family.
Damion Navarro: Okay. Well, that’s a mixture. I think with the outside family, let’s say my family, my brother, my sister, my dad, my mother, there was concern but not understanding at first. Then people started to get to know Carter and they started to realize, “Wait a second, it’s not like he has a virus. You’re not going to get sick. He has Down syndrome. He is the same as us. There are areas where there’s delays, but you know, we can work with those delays.”
Once they started educating themselves and stop being ignorant…and when I say ignorant, I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean that in a way of just lack of knowledge. I find this today with anyone in our community. That’s why I love inclusion.
Once people start understanding that they’re individuals, that they feel and hurt just like us, and they realize having a relationship where there’s no different than having a relationship with me—when they get past that, they start realizing, “Wow, what was I thinking?” And that is the ignorance.
And patience. You know, you start learning how to have patience, and that’s the most important part. Because we can all understand each other, whether you have special needs or not, through patience. My family around us has learned to be patient.
The siblings, it was different. I’m glad you asked that question, because it was tough for my oldest, Autumn. You know, I think the toughest thing with her is, “Why is he having heart surgery? Why is there so much energy focused on Carter? Why isn’t it about me?” You know, everything was about the firstborn, and she had all this attention. Then when we were going through the surgery aspect, it’s like we lost that contact.
No, we didn’t lose contact with her, but she felt we stopped contacting her because we had a different priority in mind. We were talking about Carter’s life, and it took up a lot of energy and that was always our conversations. So it’s interesting that, as a parent, you need to reel that in. You need to understand that regardless of special needs, all our children need our attention.
That’s why I wish there was a coaching lesson on how to be a father. Because you tend to forget these little things, but you don’t realize the ripple effect it has as well. But through that, we realized that we had to prioritize ourselves and take time for all our kids, and everyone’s equal. Regardless of needs or not, we’re all equal.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what you’re describing is the challenge that parents have when there is a child with special needs, to make sure that child’s needs don’t trump everything else going on in the family. And the siblings, like you were describing with Autumn, oftentimes feel like subordinates.
You know they’re not getting the same time or attention, and it’s hard to be equal, right? Like a third, a third, a third, if you have three children. But we need to find ways to do one-on-one things with them and to make sure that there’s no resentment between siblings, and that nobody feels scarred by the experience.
Anyway, thank you for your authenticity. I’m sort of curious to know what supporting organizations has Carter benefited from, or that your family might have benefited from, over the years?
Damion Navarro: For sure. Well, first and foremost, the churches we’ve belonged to, the open point of love and praise and patience through all kinds of churches. I won’t name them all.
But when churches have a need, we try to fulfill it on a construction end. I can help through our philanthropy that we do with NES, my environmental firm. So through that we’ve been exposed to many churches and many ministries, and almost every one of them had met us with great open arms for all my children, understanding of how each child goes through something, and just accepting Carter. So all the ministries we’ve been involved in.
And Lincoln Way Special Rec is another one. It’s a rec center we have locally. Through that, Carter started getting involved in sports outlets, you know, through sports and recreational center. He started forging these friendships that he wasn’t forging with other individuals in our neighborhood. And through that, we were able as parents to start forging relationships with parents who had understanding. And we’ve just all grown ever since forging these relationships, being within a community of people who are understanding. So I would say those are the most impactful organizations.
David Hirsch: And did the Lincoln Way Rec experience lead to Special Olympics?
Damion Navarro: Yes. Well, it was through an individual that we met from there, Brooke Clawitter. She was also the person who put the seed in our heart to do a farming experience for individuals with special needs, and she happens to be a board member for Special Olympics. And now she will be the chair this year, and she will be a board member at our farm.
She’s the one that said, “You should have Carter in Special Olympics. He’s so athletic.” And we’re like, “What’s Special Olympics?” “Oh my gosh, you don’t know Special Olympics?” So she turned our world upside down, and now Carter is extremely athletic and loves interacting with individuals and being competitively involved in sports. I say competitively, because, you know, he likes to compete, but just more importantly, he likes to be there and be with people. So, that’s been another blessing, one of many.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. You know, you meet a lot of people through church, through Lincoln Way Special Rec, through Special Olympics, and you find that you have a lot in common with them, right?
And all of a sudden, this is your peer group. This is your support group. These are the people who you don’t have to explain yourself to, who aren’t judgmental, like the broader community. And there’s a destiny that we each have, and it seems like you’re moving closer and closer to yours as a result.
So let’s talk about Navarro Farms. What’s the backstory? What’s the mission of the organization?
Damion Navarro: Okay. The story is we bought the property where we have this environmental firm that we started in 2000, and we’ve been expanding frequently. We outgrew our yard, so we needed more warehouse space. I had been looking at buildings, and this five acre farm property came up for sale in between my house and the office, which is two minutes away from this current office. We thought, “Oh, what a wonderful place. We could zone it ag, pay cheap taxes, and I could put some pole barns up there and store some equipment.
Well, as we were showing our friends, the Clawitters, my son’s best friend, was out there running around in the farm, clowning around. The mother then mentioned, “Hey, I grew up on a farm in Iowa. It would be awesome if we could teach our individuals how to farm.” Well, I kind of dismissed that, thinking, “Ah, the heck with that. I need more warehouse space.”
And then every night when my wife and I get together before bed, we pray and we talk, and for some reason, Brooke had planted a seed. So I said, “Sherry, what do you think about gardening?” “Well, we don’t know anything about it.” “What do you think about farming?” “We don’t know anything about it.” I’m like, “Okay, you know what, Sherri? You’re right.”
But then the next day, Sherri comes to me and says, “Damion, I think we need to do something about farming.” I said, “What? What do you mean?” So she planted the seed, and we started realizing, “Wait a second. This can be an outlet.” But we had no idea how that would work with special needs. We’d never done anything on our own with special needs.
But then we started looking online and started seeing how there are individuals with autism, with sensory issues, who could be touching, feeling, smelling, planting, sense of accountability, sense of accomplishment, teaching, educating, and creating a communal space where they can hang out, where we can focus on inclusion with our community.
It really started taking root. We feel God put this seed in our life and we’re watering it. And we went ahead and chose to go that route, to forget the warehouses and focus on creating an environment where we can grow our community, our individuals with special needs, and just ourselves.
So that’s our tagline, “A place to grow.” Navarro Farm: A place to grow. Because we’re growing in many different ways, physically, mentally, spiritually. So, that’s how it took root. And from there, it started morphing into something.
Again, we didn’t have a plan. We didn’t have a design. We bought the property, and the week before we bought the property, a tornado came through town, almost knocked the barn down.
So then, we were going to knock down the barn, when someone said, “Hey, I’ll help you. Why don’t we try and restore this barn and make it a communal place?” “Okay, great.” So then one person came into our life, another person came into our life and said, “Hey, why about raised bed gardens?” “That’s perfect.”
So now we have 84 oversized raised beds, which I think is the largest in our state, gardens that we grow crops in. Our individuals with special needs are taught how to do that. They plant them, harvest them, maintain them. Then through that they learn how to feed bugs to the chickens, and how the process of composting goes.
We knew nothing about farming, and now we’re learning just as everyone else is learning. We’re surrounded by great people that educate us daily, and we’re all growing because of that.
David Hirsch: So, when did you actually do the first raised bed gardens? What year was it?
Damion Navarro: Well, we bought the property in September of last year, and it was all a soybean field. There was nothing on the property but a barn and a house on a dirt road. If you look online and see where we are now, it’s quite different. We took possession of the property, and rebuilt the house. In October, snow came, so we ceased work, and then we started working again in February, and it was a hundred percent complete by June.
It was a race to get it done, because we realized if we take all summer to do this, there are individuals with special needs who have no outlet. As you know, the pandemic hit, but this was in open air. A lot of facilities are closed door facilities. We had all this property. I mean, five acres doesn’t seem like much, but it is much when you’re out there and you’re maintaining it.
And we wanted to put it to good use. We didn’t want to wait, so we figured we’ll use our finances, figure out how to make this work, and then we’d figure out how to raise money to continue it later on.
David Hirsch: So was 2021 then the first full year for planting and harvesting?
Damion Navarro: Yes, and we’ve been moving forward. We still have stuff in the planter beds right now, because we have farmer programs. We found out that there’s individuals with special needs in their twenties, thirties and forties. After our farm program, we developed a farmer program, first and foremost, of individuals going out there and learning how to tend to the crops, turning, learning how to grow them, harvest them, and being part of that whole process.
And then creating activities for them too on the farm. So we’re always doing something for two hours. We’re making it fun, we’re making it interactive, and we’re making it educational.
Through that process, this summer, my wife and I didn’t realize that there are individuals in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s that are sitting at home doing nothing. So we’re trying to get donations right now for a greenhouse, so that we could do stuff year round and make sure these individuals have an outlet, an opportunity not only to be educated, but to have a purpose and a sense of self accomplishment.
David Hirsch: I love it. Just so I can get a visual, what type of plants, are you growing there?
Damion Navarro: Oh my gosh. What don’t we have is the question. Watermelon, squash, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, multiple types of lettuce, tomatoes, multiple types of tomatoes and beans. I wish I could tell you, but I’m really not familiar with everything. That’s how much we didn’t know about doing that stuff. It’s pretty interesting. We learned along the way.
We were interviewed by CBS, and they asked us, “What do you know about farming?” And me and my wife just looked at each other, and we didn’t even know how to answer that, because we know nothing about farming. What we do know is that there’s a need, and we were just fulfilling that need.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love it. It has less to do with the farming itself than it is meeting this unmet need, like you were saying, with these individuals who have talent, but it’s not being put to use.
So just to be clear, you plant, you maintain the plants, you harvest the plants, and then is there an avenue to generate revenue from the sale of these vegetables?
Damion Navarro: Yes. We’ve made a farmer’s market called Carter’s Corner, after my son Carter. We had a trailer built. It’s a really unique trailer. I’d encourage you to come out and take a look at it, or we’ll send you photos of it. Or you could see it, I believe on the CBS episode we were on, or our website.
We have a farmer’s market every Saturday, and we sell produce that we grow, and all that revenue goes directly into development of the farm, for the upkeep of the farm, and for supplies for our farmers.
But just so you know, even though me and my wife aren’t too educated on the planting and horticultural side, we retain people that are much more educated than we are able to teach us and our farmers.
For example, our first farm manager Dorothy mentioned, “Damion, we need coolers. We have so much produce here, you and Sherry need to go out and get a cooler.” I said, “No problem, Dorothy. I’m going to go get a cooler.”
I raced to the closest ACE hardware. I picked up five of the largest Yeti coolers. I’m like, “I’m going to get her the Yeti. They’re the best ones, right? At least I’m paying the most for them. I don’t know. I assume they’re the best.” I bring them back. I’m all excited. I bring them back in my pickup truck, and I say, “Dorothy, look what I got. Check out the Yetis. You’re going to be in great shape.”
She walks up to me and says, “Damion, you really don’t know anything about farming, do you, or anything I’m talking about?” I’m like, “What do you mean, Dorothy?” She goes, “I meant a walk-in cooler. Look at all we have here. We have truckloads of produce.” So needless to say, I had to go buy a walk-in cooler.
So, it’s been an interesting learning process for all of us, but it’s been an exciting learning process. Having individuals who can’t speak, they’re signing, knowing we could start serving more people than me and Sherri thought we ever could.
So I found a company that could serve people with all types of disabilities and needs. It’s called BU Therapy. She’s paired up with us as a service. People need to run things through insurance. So she has an outlet that we could run things through insurance. We realized there are more people we could be helping, if I just opened our doors to other people who can help. And it’s been pretty exciting.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love the idea that you’re collaborating with other organizations and not trying to do it all yourself.
And I’m sort of curious to know, just from a scope perspective, how many individuals with special needs have you been able to touch this past year, your first full year of being in the farming business?
Damion Navarro: Probably about 150, and now we’re only a few months into it.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Damion Navarro: Yeah, it’s been awesome. It’s been incredible. We had a cookout last weekend. We had 60 individuals with special needs out there, just embracing each other, playing games in an open field, interacting with individuals, cooking out, just sitting down, having a big picnic on the farm. Another time we had a dance party. We had another 60 people with individuals with special needs out there dancing on a concrete patio.
We had a movie night. We had about 40 individuals with special needs out there. In two weeks, we’re going to have another cookout, like a harvest cookout, and we have events planned. We try to do it on a regular basis now, because we realize, wow, look at the impact it’s making. Look at the friendships being forged.
Not only is it the educational aspect, but it’s the communal aspect that we like, and the friendships that are being forged. We had a local high school soccer team come out. And all the teenagers end up playing and just hanging out with our special needs individuals, because they never realized that they could just have a normal conversation.
They don’t have to feel awkward, they don’t have to feel uncomfortable. We explained to them that they’re just like you, and through that, we now have high school kids volunteering out here for service hours, interacting, just developing friendships. It’s been so powerful. I don’t have words to really describe it. I encourage you to come out and see it. It’s amazing.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I’m definitely going to make an effort to get to Frankfort and see it firsthand. So thank you for the invitation.
I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering, is there any specific advice that you can share with parents, maybe specifically dads, about helping their children with disability reach their full potential?
Damion Navarro: Hmm. Wow. Where do you start with that? I don’t have time on that either. I would say patience. Patience with your children. Patience. Take the time to just be with them. I don’t want to discredit any other fathers out there, but you know, now that I’m involved in a special needs community, being with a lot of parents, there’s a void out there and that void is fathers.
Now I’m not judging anyone, and I know most of the time the home dynamics consist of a husband more often than the wife going out there and providing a living for their family. But you know, when you’re communicating with 80% of the wives instead of the husbands, in these activities and the events that we’re even holding, or events that I’ve been exposed to in the past through special recs or anything else, special Olympics: get involved.
You know, the advice I would give to any other father is: get involved. Be involved, be a part. Your family needs it, your wife needs it, your child needs it. And we’ve seen a more powerful impact in people’s lives when the father is there. And I’m not negating any mother. I’m not negating any family that’s divorced or dual parenting. By no means, please don’t take it that way.
But the power in having both parents is pretty amazing, because you see that child flourish. You see that child be more interactive. You see that child have more confidence within himself, or herself. So be involved. That’s most important.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You reemphasize the importance of being patient, and then the importance of being present in your child’s life—physically, emotionally, spiritually involved in your child’s life. So when you get your Great Dad coin, I think you’re really going to appreciate it. Because all those words are packed on this little itsy bitsy coin that you can carry around in your pocket.
So I’m sort of curious to know, why have you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Damion Navarro: It’s because I believe what you’re doing is so very important and valuable. And again, it wasn’t the process of us meeting to understand that there is a void out there. It’s obvious, it’s apparent, you know, with fathers. But, I think a lot of fathers need encouragement, and what you promote, what your organization promotes, with other fathers being mentors and the struggles we’ve had, I think a lot of fathers need to know that we all go through something.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t let pride step in your way. And it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to not have the answers, because we don’t always have them. And more importantly, there’s always someone out there to help you and other people who are experiencing what we’ve experienced.
And I think that you understand that, and you’re with a group of men that understand that. I think it’s so very important that we’re that influence, we’re that mentor to other people.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, we’re thrilled to have you as part of the organization. And I’m sort of curious to know, is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Damion Navarro: Not off the top of my head. I’m just happy and excited that we were able to have a conversation today, and I really hope that through this organization, I’m able to meet other fathers that maybe need advice, or maybe other fathers that I could get advice from. So thank you.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you’re welcome. If somebody wants to learn more about Navarro Farms or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Damion Navarro: Go to navarrofarm.org. You fill out the volunteer sheet or just contact us through that outlet. There’s contact information on that.
David Hirsch: Excellent. We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to follow up.
Damion, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Damion is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Damien, thanks again.
Damion Navarro: Thank you, sir. And I hate to cut you short. I got some farmers at the farm right now who have been waiting on me.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to email@example.com.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.