Saturday, September 13, 2014

Growing Community: Therapeutic Gardens for Adults with Autism Go Nationwide

A Chicago-based therapeutic gardening program designed to aid young adults with autism has caught the attention of the National Garden Bureau and may soon expand nationwide.

Students of Growing Solutions Farm get to learn all aspects of farming, like planting and harvesting vegetables, maintaining the farm, and cooking the foods they grow. However, like many therapeutic programs, the young farmers—aged 18 to 26 years—glean much more than agricultural know-how from their experience.

Says operations manager Gwenne Godwin, “This is a vocational farm, so we're teaching job skills. How to work with others, being on time, how to dress, how to do a resume. Those skills translate to any job. We're using the medium of agriculture to teach here.”

The 2.1 acre farm is part of the Julie+ Michael Tracy Family Foundation's Urban Autism Solutions program. Julie Tracy, who has a son with autism, knows firsthand that there are not enough programs that serve young adults on the spectrum.

“Most of them are floundering during these years, and one of our goals is to eliminating the floundering period and provide a more secure passage into adulthood,” Tracy says. “We feel if we can manage these years, we will have much better outcomes. We've already seen this to be true.”

Young farmer Daniel Raviv can attest to this. Raviv hopes to one day become an animator, and he believes that the skills he is learning at Growing Solutions will help him get there. He has been part of Growing Solutions since May, traveling by himself via train and bus to get there. The solo commute and his garden work, he says, help him practice for getting a job and improve his work skills and methods.

In the future, if funding goals are met, the National Garden Bureau hopes to set up more therapeutic gardens like Growing Solutions across the country. These future gardens, however, will not only be for those with autism, but would open themselves to others in need, like veterans' groups.

It would be great to see more programs like this in Oregon! We are fortunate to have fun and pragmatic opportunities for adults with disabilities—PHAME, Happy Cup, On-the-Move, and (of course!) Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp—but something agriculture-specific would thrive here, I think. How about you? What are your thoughts?

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