Updated: Jan 19
This blog post is guest-written by Growing Solutions Farm lead grower Tucker Kelly. This past season (2021) was Tucker’s third at the farm. He manages everything related to the farm (landscaping, scheduling staff, students, volunteers, and farm stands, as well as ensuring the safe handling of produce). Tucker has worked on urban agriculture projects since 2010, including a position at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Windy City Harvest as a trainer. He holds a ServSafe certificate and is working on a GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) Certification (2022) for Growing Solutions Farm. Tucker also works closely with young adults with autism and related challenges from Chicago public high schools who visit and work at the farm.
Hello readers! And welcome to Farm FAQs Part 2! We answered a lot of your great questions in Part 1 of this ongoing series, so if you haven’t had a chance to read that we’ll wait for you here… Back? OK, on to Part 2!
Photo: Delicata squash at Growing Solutions Farm.
Why don’t you grow fruit like berries?
Our Growing Solutions Farm was designed for young adults with autism and related challenges. Berries like raspberries and blueberries require a few years to produce fruit. Also, many of our young adults don’t have the fine motor function needed to harvest small berries.
What do you do with the apples from the apple trees?
Like berries, it takes time before the fruits our apple trees produce are big enough for sale or consumption. These trees are about 7 years old, but their size – as well as the size of the fruits they produce -- is limited because of the concrete containers they are in. The containers limit the root growth of the trees. At present, we are letting the birds enjoy the apples!
What is Apologue?
You may have seen a sign at the front of one of our garden beds that says Apologue Liqueurs. Apologue is one of our amazing partners – they produce spirited liqueurs crafted from natural ingredients, including celeriac root grown at Growing Solutions Farm. Employees from Apologue also volunteer at Growing Solutions Farm, not only helping us with tasks and projects but supporting us by donating products for our Carrots & Cocktails summer event at the farm. Each quarter, Apologue also donates a percentage of the sales of their celery root liqueur to Urban Autism Solutions. We could not have asked for a better partner and friend!
By the way – be sure to save the date (June 22nd) when we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary at the farm. Apologue will be there bringing their unique cocktails to our guests. Watch your emails for more information about Carrots & Cocktails!
This of course leads to a very frequently asked question: what is celeriac root?
First of all, celery and celeriac are closely related but not the same thing. Celeriac, also known as celery root, is not the root of the celery you buy at the supermarket. Celeriac has a big, bulbous root that can get to be about the size of a tennis ball. It has an earthy, celery-adjacent flavor and is often used in soups or roasted. Apologue uses celeriac root as an ingredient in its Celery Root Liqueur. It also contains dill, tarragon, fennel, and lemon peel. I’ve tried it and it goes great in Bloody Marys. I highly recommend picking up a bottle and supporting Apologue, a local, home-grown business!
Are green tomatoes unripe tomatoes?
Short answer: yes. Most tomatoes will start green before turning red or yellow as they ripen. However, some heirloom varieties are actually green in their mature state, but that’s the exception. Green tomatoes are used for frying because compared to ripe tomatoes, they are firmer and dryer, making them easier to batter and fry. Try this easy recipe for fried green tomatoes.
Help! What do I do with all the Swiss Chard I received?
Swiss chard is not only a real eye-catcher with its bright red stalks and rich, green foliage, it’s also packed with fiber, vitamin K and tons of antioxidants. But it can be a bit of a challenge for people who have never cooked with it before. Similar to kale, you can easily add it to soups or to a stir fry. Cut out the tough parts of the stalk first. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt and crushed red pepper from the farm, it makes a great side dish. You can try the recipe we included with the CSA last summer, or check out this other one for a tasty Swiss chard salad.
Do you grow your own seeds or buy plants?
At Growing Solutions Farm, we actually do both. For plants that don’t like to be transplanted as seedlings, we direct sow those, meaning we put the seeds right into the ground at the farm where they will grow. We do this for carrots, lettuces, spinach, root crops and some flowers.
When I say plants don’t like to be transplanted, it means that their root systems aren’t as good as acclimating to being transplanted, and these plants can waste energy trying to reestablish delicate roots that get disturbed during transplantation. This can sometimes cause the plant to grow slower or less vigorously. For anything we don’t direct sow, we purchase the seeds during the winter and send them over to our greenhouse vendor, where they will get started in pots.
How do you keep animals like bunnies and squirrels away?
Small animals you may typically find at a farm are generally not found at Growing Solutions Farm. This is because we are located away from restaurants, homes and large dwelling spaces. If you’re having issues with bunnies and squirrels, you can muddle mint or garlic or hot peppers with some water and put it into a spray bottle. Just be sure to spray around your plants, not directly on your plants. These animals don’t like these smells. You can also do the same thing with a little soap diluted in water. The best thing you can do if you have rabbits is to avoid planting things they like to eat. That goes for vegetables as well as perennial plants. Barring that, chicken wire caging is your best bet if you want to keep these animals out of your garden.
What is the Sensory Garden?
Part of Growing Solutions Farm is set aside for our Sensory Garden. It was created with funds donated by the Windy City Lions Club. Volunteers from Windy City also came out in May of 2021 to help create the garden and install all the plants.
In a nutshell, the Sensory Garden was designed with the help of horticulturalists at the Chicago Botanic Garden to include plants that excel at stimulating the senses. The Sensory Garden includes plants that have unique scent, touch, visual and even sound qualities. Some of the ornamental grasses we grow are soft and, in the fall, when the stalks dry out, they produce a really interesting rustling sound. We have herbs which in addition to taste, have unique scents. We have plants that you can pet like a cat and have really soft leaves.
The garden is laid out as a series of circular beds so that individuals with mobility issues can navigate the garden more easily, including from a wheelchair. Our herb beds are raised so that people who use a wheelchair to get around can smell them without needing to bend down. The design of the garden also helps people with autism, who can have issues related to sensory overload, slow down and focus. They can really take their time investigating plants, and go at their own pace. It’s a real haven for visitors of all types to Growing Solutions Farm.
If you have additional questions about Growing Solutions Farm, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org