One mother-son duo on the Island is baking their dream into a reality.
Edie Prescott started MV Barkery, a company that bakes dog treats, as a way to create meaningful employment for her son Henry, who has autism.
“In the community of special education, a child can be anywhere … until the day before they turn 22 years of age,” Edie said. “Then they are considered ‘aged out,’ and then a lot of kids go to group homes and other options from there, but their formal schooling ends the day before they turn 22.”
Henry attends the Boston Higashi School in Randolph. While Edie moved to Martha’s Vineyard from Stamford, Conn., she decided to keep Henry enrolled at the boarding school, with weekend visits, since he was already thriving there. Similar to the Island’s Voyagers program, which is designed for “other abled” young adults ages 18 to 22, the Boston Higashi School has been teaching Henry and other students skills to live independently. Henry turns 21 in May, so his aging out of the school was a “looming thought” for Edie. MV Barkery was a way to plan ahead.
“My goal is to have something Henry truly enjoys and can feel proud of, and feel like he’s contributing to the community,” she said.
The impetus for MV Barkery’s formation came after a visit to Mocha Mott’s. Edie went into the coffee shop for a latte and a couple of treats for her dogs, a golden retriever named Squibby and a maltipoo named Candy. Seeing the dog treats made her think this was a potential venture she and Henry could pursue, so Edie approached the owner of Mocha Mott’s, Meredith Aldritch. After Prescott took a couple of weeks to set up her “business infrastructure,” like a website and insurance, Mocha Mott’s became MV Barkery’s first retail customer.
“We have individuals who inquire about gift boxes and stuff like that,” Edie said. “It’s been super-well-received, mostly in the beginning by friends and family. But word gets out, and it has been growing naturally, largely through the power of social media.”
Word spreading about MV Barkery also led to the dog treats being sold at Lo Adoro Italian Market in Sandwich. The company continues to build partnerships with other retailers. Organizations have also approached Edie about selling the company’s treats, such as the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard wanting the snacks during their upcoming fundraisers. Edie also said there is a woman who also has a son with autism, who wants to help the company on baking days.
“Everybody loves the story behind it, and people really rallied around us,” she said. “It’s been an amazing show of support.”
The attention on MV Barkery expanded after its participation in the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce’s Perfect Pitch competition, where entrepreneurs compete for an opportunity to win funding through a live business pitch. MV Barkery won the third-place prize of $2,500. Edie plans to use the funds to make MV Barkery into a limited liability company and trademark the name.
“I happen to think it’s a really cute name, and I want to protect it,” she said.
A long-term vision for MV Barkery is to have a property for the bakery. Currently, the company’s operations are run from Edie’s home in West Tisbury. A building would allow MV Barkery to hire other abled adults, similar to what the beloved Chilmark Chocolates used to do before closing at the end of 2019. Edie said despite its odd business hours and remote location, the chocolate store always had a line of people waiting to buy the sweets.
“I think people loved not only the product but loved supporting a business that was helping people in the community have meaningful employment who otherwise might not have it,” she said.
Without Chilmark Chocolates, Edie said, there has been an employment “void” for other abled individuals, which she hopes MV Barkery can eventually fill.
Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of children with autism gradually increased over the years, from one in 150 in 2000 to one in 36 in 2020. Island Autism CEO and co-founder Kate DeVane told The Times that one in 45 students in the Martha’s Vineyard school system had autism in 2018, which was estimated to be 56 children. According to DeVane, around five students with autism enter the Island school system each year. The overall number of people with autism on the Island is estimated to be up to 250 individuals, according to DeVane.
DeVane also pointed out a program at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School that sells dog biscuits, called Purple Paws, which is run by the Voyagers program. She hopes this program, MV Barkery, and Island Autism will be able to collaborate in the future.
“MV Barkery is a newer organization, and is a great possible job opportunity for other people with autism in the future,” DeVane said.
Individuals with autism are experiencing employment issues throughout the country. According to the Autism Center of Greater Cincinnati, around 75 percent of adults with autism in the U.S. were unemployed or underemployed. College-educated adults with autism experienced an 85 percent unemployment rate.
DeVane said a part of the problem on the Island for individuals with autism is a lack of an assisted-living program for new graduates or younger adults with autism. Her organization is currently building a center to provide job training that would allow autistic individuals to adapt into a neurotypical community and workplace.
Finding a way to support individuals with autism is a task that needs to be met on-Island.
“There’s a real need,” Edie said. “These kids age, and there’s a lot of support for children. There has to be more development for young adults, and then as they age into older adults. They all have amazing skills. I think, unfortunately, as a society we sometimes underestimate certain profiles of people that we maybe don’t quite understand, and people make assumptions. But all of these young adults and kids are amazing, and they all have skills to succeed in the workplace. Everybody just needs a chance.”
Edie said she wants MV Barkery to collaborate with more organizations and programs on the Island as the business grows.
Running MV Barkery has been a fun venture for Edie and Henry, and she hopes it lasts, to keep providing her son an enjoyable place to work.
“I hope it continues on its course,” she said. “It’s been fun, we’re learning a lot, and we’re supporting a good cause in the community.”