Dirty fingernails, sweaty shirts, rain, snow, and sunshine. These are magical things.
For the last year, I have worked as the lead grower for the Urban Autism Solutions (UAS) Growing Solutions Farm. In this role, I provide vocational training in landscaping, market sales, food safety, and sanitation just to name a few. I also teach and reinforce transferable job skills such as showing up to work on time and in uniform, how to behave during break and following directions.
I was initially connected to UAS by Laura Calvert of Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA). I knew of the UAS partnership with Apologue Liquors; the UAS team sold celery root which was made into liquor then sold to bars and restaurants as well as retailers. I knew of their partnership with Rick Bayless’ West Loop restaurants; Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca. I knew of the work UAS did with participants from their organization as well as Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago and various West Side Chicago Public High Schools. I did not know the depth or breadth of the organization’s functions.
UAS is dynamic, comprised of community-based programmings such as the UAS West Side Transition Academy, and Washdog Chicago. Programming and staffing are seamless and swift. That’s the point. Functions change to fit niche needs that are not met by traditional educational systems. To say, however, that our program’s participants are the only beneficiaries of our work would be a half-truth. In the last year with UAS, I’ve listened as much as I’ve spoken and learned as much as I’ve taught.
This fall, as we officially close the farm for the season, I look behind me and see so many happy faces. Faces of our participants who learned new and better ways to communicate, who completed personal goals, and developed a renewed sense of self-esteem and determination.
As we look ahead to next summer, please consider stopping by and taking a tour of the farm. We’d love to see you!