Updated: Jan 10
Urban Autism Solutions has received a $20,000 grant from the Albert Pick, Jr. Fund to support STEM-focused learning opportunities at Growing Solutions Farm. The grant will help the farm maintain its busy production schedule while providing high-quality instruction to young adults with autism and related challenges who learn about urban agriculture and acquire transferrable job skills at the farm.
ABOVE: Lead grower Tucker Kelly shows students how to wash produce for sale at Growing Solutions Farm.
“The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund is pleased to partner with Urban Autism Solutions to support its Growing Solutions Farm, says Iris Krieg, executive director of the Albert Pick, Jr. Fund. “The farm gives young adults with autism and related challenges an incredible opportunity to learn in a positive environment where their assets are valued and they are presented with exciting opportunities for their futures.”
Growing Solutions Farm is a 1.2-acre produce farm on Chicago’s West Side run by Urban Autism Solutions. The farm offers produce through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription and through weekly farm stands. It also donates 20 percent of the harvest to local food banks through Grace Seeds Ministry.
Transition-aged (16 – 22 years old) students with autism and related challenges from West Side Chicago public high schools learn through hands-on experience as they work at the farm while gaining transferrable job skills such as following directions, working as a team, getting to work on time, interacting effectively with co-workers and managing work tasks and schedules.
Guided by our lead grower, participants learn everything about urban agriculture including light construction, food safety and sanitation, how to plant and maintain crops, create nutrient-rich compost and how to harvest, wash and package food for sale at our farm stands, through our CSA and to small businesses, restaurants and wholesalers.
Much of the work at the farm requires basic math, geometry and science knowledge, such as determining the number of seeds needed to cover a specific area, evenly spacing out seedlings, and measuring lumber or other materials needed for light construction projects. Students learn basic geometry as they build garden beds and trellises (angles, rectangles) and think about supporting loads (how strong does a trellis need to be to support the weight of a vine as it grows). The concepts of volume and space are used as students determine how much produce is needed to fill different-sized containers (how many tomatoes fit in a pint-sized container). Students also use scales to weigh produce for packaging. Science plays a big role in urban agriculture from watching the weather to understanding basic earth science, and the layers of ground that need to be soaked for watering.
“This hands-on approach to STEM subjects is much more effective for this population than learning these concepts in a classroom or reading a textbook,” says Heather M. Tarczan, executive director of Urban Autism Solutions. “At the farm, students learn by doing and with the help of lots of visual aids. This grant will allow our lead grower to take the time to help students understand and apply STEM ideas like measurements and weights as well as some biology and soil science in a unique, immersive environment.”
Almost all UAS participants come from households with incomes at or below the federal poverty level. To support the health and well-being of families, students take home a bag of fresh produce from the farm each week. Many students live in food deserts where access to fresh produce is limited, and there are exceptionally high rates of diabetes and heart disease. By bringing home a bag of fresh produce each week, students incorporate fresh vegetables into their diets to displace empty calories from sugary snacks.
“The farm experience is so special because it’s so many things at once: it’s a place to try on what it’s like to work, it’s a hands-on STEM laboratory and it’s a place to just get outside, get your hands dirty and have fun,” says lead grower, Tucker Kelly. “To get to literally see the fruits of your labor is a very powerful thing for our students.”
The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund was established as a general-purpose, private foundation to meet the needs of the Chicago, Illinois area community. The Foundation makes annual and multi-year grants to nonprofit organizations in Chicago.
Since its establishment in 2012, Urban Autism Solutions has served more than 1,000 young adults through innovative, person-centered programs that focus on the acquisition of life skills, community integration, social interaction, and vocational training. Whether we are serving West Side Chicago public high school students at our UAS West Side Transition Academy or at Growing Solutions Farm, or offering opportunities to the broader autism community for socialization through Network 1212 or our other programs, UAS believes that all young adults living with autism and other learning differences are valued members of society.