Final report for YENC21-168
Growing Solutions Farm is an urban agriculture and vocational training site, specifically designed to serve young adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or a similar disability, from Chicago’s underserved West Side neighborhoods. The farm provides a training environment where young adults with ASD gain transferable work readiness skills and learn about how sustainable farming impacts urban community. While working on the farm, students gain skills and knowledge about sustainable farming including all phases of farming from soil preparation, planting, cultivating, harvesting and marketing. This experience includes the opportunity to expand our Community Supported Agriculture program which benefits local customers.
Growing Solutions Farm works with school partners to implement an experience that demonstrates the contributions urban farming projects make on a community. There are four core objectives:
- Increase sustainable farming skills through combined classroom and hands-on experiences at the farm.
- Develop transferable job skills that will assist students from high school to adulthood in a safe environment that includes interventions by graduate students from Occupational and Speech Therapies.
- Give young adults marketing experiences through our farmers markets and our Community Supported Agriculture program.
- Share progress and photos via our social media sites and the Urban Autism Solutions website.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Growing Solutions Farm is a Chicago-based urban agriculture project that operates on a seasonal schedule. The farm is the first and only program of its kind for young, diverse, West Side learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder or related diagnoses. These young adults benefit from farm experience as they prepare to transition out of the safety net of high school and into the world of greater independence as adults. Young adults who are involved in Growing Solutions Farm learn every aspect of urban agriculture from soil to seedling to harvest and composting.
Both classroom instruction and hands-on experiences teach young adults how to prepare soil, create composting systems, build and maintain crops, plant seeds and seedlings, weed and clean garden beds, harvest, clean and package produce, and sell produce at farmer’s markets.
Because of the nature of the population, the Growing Solutions Farm implements basic concepts related to sustainable agriculture. Students at the Growing Solutions Farm learn about and work on all aspects from preparation of the soil, through planting and harvesting, to organic composting. Students work on social-emotional learning by providing tours of the farm to guests, and helping to package, market, and sell the farm’s produce to paying customers at farmers' markets and through the farm's community shared agriculture program. Students do take fresh, produce home to their families and are encouraged to discuss their days and their work, thus spreading awareness and understanding of farming and the value of sustainable agriculture, especially in urban areas where it is not commonly in practice.
Please see the presentation link below for a lesson on composting, compiled and taught by Growing Solutions Farm's lead grower, Tucker Kelly:
The two other farmers that our program participants (minimally) engaged with were the assistant grower, Evan Callan, and John Franzese, a retired hobbyist farmer who previously operated his own co-op, who serves as a volunteer on the farm. The students' main point of contact and teacher is Tucker Kelly, Growing Solutions Farm's lead grower. There were no trips to other working farms, largely due to Covid restrictions.
Cece started coming to Growing Solutions Farm in 2018 from Al Raby, a public high school on the west side of Chicago. Cece, like the majority of the young adults with autism and related challenges who work at the farm, comes from a low-income community affected by violence and a lack of markets providing fresh food. At the farm, Cece was immersed in urban agriculture and gained important skills as she worked under the direction of Tucker, our lead farmer. She learned the importance of showing up to work on time and in uniform, communicating effectively with supervisors and co-workers, and following directions. She also had a chance to work on her social and emotional well-being in a safe and understanding environment. Every week, Cece took a bag of fresh produce home to her family, as all our farm students do. (Growing Solutions Farm donates 20% of its harvest to local food pantries and to students who work at the farm.)
Like so many, Cece had a very difficult year in 2020, and we lost touch with her briefly. But in early 2021, her new guardian reached out to Urban Autism Solutions and we were so glad to see Cece return to Growing Solutions Farm in the summer. Cece seemed to thrive, taking pride in her work harvesting and preparing produce for sale at our farm stand. Cece was going through a lot at home, but it was clear the farm was a place where she could relax and be herself. This fall, we were informed that Cece got a job at a coffee shop employing the skills she acquired at Growing Solutions Farm. Cece and her guardian both credit working at the farm with helping her be ready to work at the coffee shop.
Because of the nature of the population, the Growing Solutions Farm implements basic concepts related to sustainable agriculture. The small-scale farm produces food that is sold at farmer’s markets, is distributed through a community-supported agriculture program, and to food pantries through a partnership with Grace Seeds Ministries. Additionally, we teach students about the benefits of healthy, organic composting practices to enrich the soil. Students enjoy their time at the farm and gain important, transferable social skills while gaining a sense of responsibility and cooperation.
The Growing Solutions Farm would benefit from continued support from the SARE Program, as there will never be any shortage of students and families that can benefit from the work (and the produce) generated there. The presence of the farm, and the availability of the crops produced there, are especially unique in their urban setting.