Working outdoors. Being part of a community of diverse learners. Gaining experience working as an employee in the growing field of urban agriculture. These ideas helped fuel the development of our nationally-recognized Growing Solutions Farm located in Chicago’s West Side.
Growing Solutions Farm is a 1.2-acre produce farm where young adults with autism and related challenges gain vocational and social skills while getting outside in the fresh air. The farm includes a large growing space, a high hoop house, a cooling shed, composting bins, and an outdoor tented classroom. The farm grows more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Young adult participants with autism and learning differences join us independently as well as from our residential programs and from our partner West Side Chicago public high schools.
Students learn how to build raised beds, prepare soil, tend compost piles and harvest and prepare food for sale at our farm stands while gaining important transferrable job skills like following directions, communicating effectively with co-workers and supervisors, and managing and completing tasks.
The farm launched in 2013 as a pilot program consisting of a 900-square foot growing plot. That year, we welcomed participants from West Side public high schools to work at the farm. Realizing that we wanted to offer our farm experience to more young adults with autism and related challenges, we pursued additional land to increase the footprint of the farm.
Today the farm has close to 7,000 square feet of growing space and has allowed us to provide more consistent, intensive vocational training opportunities.
During the summer the farm sells restaurant-quality produce at our on-site farm stand two days a week, at farm-stand pop-ups in the community, through our CSA program and to local businesses. Proceeds from these sales directly support our vocational programming at the farm.
Ninety-five percent of students who participate in activities at the farm are from low-income families at or below the poverty level and experience food insecurity. Every week during the growing season, these students take home a bag of fresh, nutritious produce from the farm. Growing Solutions Farm also donates 20% of produce grown to Grace Seeds Ministry, which distributes it to food pantries on the West Side of Chicago.