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Horticulture Program Enters Its 2nd Summer

04/26/16
Charles River Center, Needham

Now that spring has sprung and the weather is gradually turning warmer, participants in the Charles River Center’s Horticulture Program are busy in the greenhouse preparing for another growing season.

The program launched in spring of 2015 and to date, over 80 of the 170 individuals in the Employment & Day Services division have joined in. Participation is completely voluntary but all who take part eagerly anticipate their scheduled gardening time. “I can’t walk down the halls without individuals asking me to put them on the schedule,” said Mike Bolio, the program coordinator.  (In preparation for this venture, the Charles River Center sent Mike Bolio, a Case Manager, to attend the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Santa Cruz, California.)

After a brief lesson on the particular flower or vegetable, small groups plant seeds in the new greenhouse located at the Charles River Center.  They tend and nurture the seedlings until they can be transplanted to raised beds at the Needham Community Farm, a community plot in Newton, or buckets and crates at the Charles River Center itself.

Not only is the program popular with the participants, but the community has embraced the initiative. The greenhouse and supplies were funded by donations from Whole Foods, the Needham Women’s Club, and Wellesley Bank, and the Needham Community Farm welcomes the partnership.

The benefits to the individuals are numerous.  They are developing and strengthening transferrable skills for possible future employment: agricultural knowledge, improved strength, communication, and team-building.  They are also gaining many therapeutic benefits, including increased social interaction, stress reduction, a gained sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and improved problem solving.

Once the produce is harvested, individuals deliver the bounty to local food banks.  This summer there are plans to build a mobile farm stand so that individuals can visit low-income housing units and deliver the produce in person.  Last summer, the 24 Charles River Center group homes also used the vegetables, which encouraged healthy eating and even prompted a recipe exchange among the program directors. 

“What I love about this program is that it blends both social justice and organic farming together. From the outset, we have had three goals: to teach the individuals new skills, to expose them to new experiences, and to educate the public about the unique contributions individuals with developmental disabilities can make in the community.  I’m proud that we are accomplishing these goals and that the program is off to a great start,” said Mike Bolio.

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