Approximately three days a week, Andy, of Manchester, takes a bus out to the Tolland Agricultural Center.
He works year round in a greenhouse filling trays, planting seeds, recycling soil, and providing all around help in the production of delicious and nutritious micro greens.
Andy is just one of approximately 18 adults with developmental disabilities served by the nonprofit Creative Living Community of Connecticut (CLCC). Going on its sixth year, CLCC has been matching people with developmental disabilities with another 15 to 20 volunteers without disabilities who provide support and mentorship. By working together, they share skills and learn from one another in a positive and productive environment.
"There are not a lot of options for people with disabilities who can work a job with some support," said greenhouse Coordinator Alexis Vatteroni. "The work we offer provides opportunities to develop job skills and social skills. It gives people a sense of independence, a chance to get out on their own away from their parents and make a contribution."
The CLCC greenhouse grows smaller version of adult plants, including basils, scallions, pea tendrils, and radishes, to name a few, harvesting only the greens to sell to area chefs - mostly as garnishes or to be used in pestos and smoothies. They also sell their produce at the South Windsor Farmers Market, and most recently at a newly-located Rockville Farmers Market, which sells outside the greenhouse on Saturdays.
The microgreens, which take only about one to two weeks to grow, are three to five times higher in nutrition with stronger and spicier flavors, said Vatteroni. Additionally, the short growth period creates a great opportunity for workers to get in a lot of trial and error, and try out different techniques to improve a crop.
"A lot of the work is quiet and repetitive, something that people with autism need and appreciate. There are multiple stations and jobs for all skills and abilities, with opportunities to progress," said Vatteroni.
For example, recycling soil is often a good sensory job for persons with high level autism.
This year, the greenhouse expanded to include taking over the outdoor garden beside the greenhouse, which had previously been the 4-H children's garden. Vatteroni said CLCC also hopes to add an afternoon art-related program in the greenhouse, after the work in the earlier hours is completed.
Key to CLCC's vision is the future creation of a Farmstead Village, and the organization has an option to purchase 78 acres in Chaplin for this purpose. The Village would ideally include housing for people with and without disabilities to live and work together in a supportive setting, where they could do farming, baking, have art programs and day programs, as well as special events.
To get there, CLCC applies for grants, requests donations, and holds fundraisers, including a popular annual farm to table event.
This year, on Sept. 16 at the Twin Hills Country Club in Coventry, CLCC will hold its first annual golf outing, with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. For event information, contact John Feeney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More about CLCC can be found at www.creativelc.org.