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Suddenly I Seed!

Check out what our 2015 University of Illinois Extension Interns are doing this summer!
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Growing Solutions Farm: Autistic Youth Garden Harvest Day

Posted by Ron Wolford -


In July, there are a variety of vegetables that are at their peak and are ready to be harvested. The Growing Solutions Farm (Autistic Youth Garden) gave us the awesome opportunity to help harvest vegetables and herbs, prepare them for transportation, and observe how the harvesting process works.

The structure at the Growing Solutions Farm has to be just right for the day to go off without a hitch. Students arrive in the morning around nine to set up tables, set out gloves and water coolers, and socialize before their tasks begin. But for Farm Manager Gwenne, her day begins much earlier. She arrives at the garden as the sun rises to observe which produce is ready for picking, prepare the harvest tent and materials, and decide on tasks for student groups that day. That's just the beginning of the harvesting process that occurs about once a week, starting in June and continuing until there is no more produce or frost appears.

Students are assigned groups for the day based on their functioning level and a group leader. Today, students were harvesting kale, Swiss chard, hot peppers, and a variety of herbs. Students were told to wash their hands and grab a clean harvest basket before heading to the beds. It was fun to watch students work, and to work alongside of them. We could tell that some students had done this several times before and were confident in which produce was ready for picking, while others needed more instruction. Nevertheless, every student was enthusiastic about his job and eager to please Farmer Gwenne.

While the students were picking veggies, Gwenne has the precise job of organizing, cleaning, and storing the produce in the harvest tent. Kale, for instance, goes through several steps before being sent off the farm to a local food pantry. First, the large kale leaves arrive at the tent in sterilized bins carried by students. Gwenne weighs the harvest and records the number. Then students assist her in bundling eight stalks of kale with a rubber band, and cutting the ends of the stalks to be even. According to safe food handling practices the produce must be cleaned after harvest, so the bundles first go through a warm water bath, then a cold shock to remove debris and pests. The bundles are stored in a cooler over ice, then shipped out in sterilized bins with Linda Wygant, director of Grace Seeds Ministry, who is constantly grateful for the hard work put into growing and harvesting the produce.

It's a rewarding process to be able to observe, and we can't emphasize enough the excitement and enthusiasm shown by these young men on the farm. This experience wraps up our series of trips to the Growing Solutions Farm, and we extend our sincerest thanks to Julie Tracy and Farmer Gwenne for being accommodating and passionate about this cause. We encourage you to read our previous posts to witness the growth for yourself!

Shelby & Ilana

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