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Help Connections Win a Seeds of Change Grant

It has been such an exciting spring in the garden with great things happening since our last post. We raised the funds to complete the installation of our raised sensory bed; Kennedy Junior High School PLTW classes graciously offered to raise the remaining 4 veggie beds; our organic seed order arrived and our young adults completed the data entry to assist with managing our seeds; our young adults started tomato, pepper, and brussel sprouts in the greenhouse; we built our fence; and we are in the process of pursuing a Seeds of Change grant. We initially planned to lay mulch around the raised beds to counter the impact of sunlight absorption with the black pavement, in turn reducing the effect of creating a heat island, and the Naperville Park District graciously offered to donate the mulch. However, we became concerned that the mulch would not compact in a way that would allow for our young adults that use wheelchairs to traverse between the beds. That led us to pursue a Seeds of Change grant. Should we win, we will use the funds to install a platform around the raised beds. a water feature within our sensory garden, several small planters of dwarf fruit trees, and we will purchase the remaining organic dirt for the beds KJHS students are raising.

 

How would we use a Seeds of Change grant to help the Naperville community?


There is a national epidemic of unemployed individuals with disabilities in our nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016, 17.1% of the workforce comprised of individuals having a disability, 33% of whom worked part-time. Individuals with disabilities urgently need to develop job skills leading to volunteer experiences or employment. Our communities need to continue developing their understanding of the ways our disability community can contribute. Our goal is creating Farm to Naperville, serving Naperville’s restaurant and farmer’s market community, and a community garden, serving Naperville’s adult disability community via adult day program partnerships. Both opportunities increase community awareness of our students’ ability to grow plants from seed, engage in Monarch Watch, and tend the garden through the seasons; the synthesis of skills needed to sustain a garden and ongoing, natural development of skills that transcend volunteer and employment settings.

 

What does your garden do to teach people about where their food comes from?


We engage in community trips to grocery stores and talk about the differences between buying processed food and crop that was transported from other states and countries and the impact we glean when we grow our own food. We teach our students how to tend the soil, plant, water, grow, harvest, and prepare food from our organic garden; in turn, engaging in the process as the vehicle to teach our young adults about where their food comes from. Our students learn about nutrition and the subtle taste differences in the variety of vegetables and herbs that we grow. We work with students having medical conditions, sensory deficits and apprehension to experience colors or textures. When our students grow their own food, they are more likely to try it and learn that it tastes good, something they were reluctant to do previously. This, in turn, impacts their interest in learning more about where their food comes from and desire to grow more of their own.

 

How would you measure success of your program?


We currently measure the success of our program via: harvested crop amount and variety, range of dishes prepared from our crop, number of students that sampled the dishes, noting preferred and non-preferred dishes, and the number of students now preparing their own lunches with our fresh produce. For our community expansion, we plan to measure success via: 1) full creation of Farm to Naperville including successful alignment of raised beds for participating restaurants (targeting 5 with 3 beds remaining for our program), students surveying restaurants to ascertain preferences, and successful crop growth and delivery; and 2) establishment of three adult day programs contributing to the tending and harvest of our crop including a summer gardening schedule.