Growing Solutions Farm
Working outdoors. Building a community of diverse learners. Gaining the identity of an employee. Harnessing the skills and talents of our young adult clients while acquiring expertise in a flourishing local food industry. These concepts are the genesis of our nationally recognized Growing Solutions Farm.
Young adult participants join us independently as well as from residential programs and high schools. Participants learn agriculture skills and how to follow structured employment tasks while also gaining soft skills. Our farmer, volunteers and agency staff engage in daily farm work with our farm participants and their teachers, modeling and teaching the curriculum that will lead to future success in the workplace.
In 2013, our 900-square foot pilot garden taught us that we could increase independence and productivity among young adults with autism and related disabilities, while teaching vocational and horticulture skills.
The garden's expansion in 2014 allowed us to provide paid employment and more consistent, intensive vocational training opportunities to twice as many young adults, while harnessing the collective strength of our partners.
Today, Growing Solutions Farm is a 1.2-acre produce farm in the Illinois Medical District that provides vocational opportunities and unmatched learning experiences for our participants. The farm includes a large growing space, a greenhouse, a cooling shed, composting bins, and an outdoor tented classroom.
During the summer we sell restaurant-quality produce at our on-site farm stand, farm-stand pop-ups in the community, including the West Loop Green City Market, through our CSA program, and to local businesses. The sale of all produce goes directly to our vocational programming that helps young adults with autism and related disabilities.
UAS donates 20% of all produce grown to Grace Seeds Ministry and to our participants, more than 95% of whom are from food-insecure families. Between 2019 and 2020, Growing Solutions Farm more than doubled its produce sales and is on track to continue this trajectory in 2021 with the addition of more growing space.