1:00 PM to 3:00 PM EST
By Jennifer Reese (ECNV Medicaid Programs Coordinator)
Day Support and job skills Training programs for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities are in short supply in Loudoun County. A number of adults who will age out of Loudoun County School programs in June will not have anywhere else to go.
One organization that is trying to bridge the gap is Legacy Farms, an Agrarian Based Job Training program.
Legacy Farms provides support services, agriculture and farm based vocational training. The board and volunteers have established an educational based community, using a holistic model that will encompass all aspects of farm life. The staff foster and encourage participants to develop a sense of independence and experience - a life filled with true achievements.
In the Summer of 2015, Temple Hall Farm in Leesburg, donated 1/2 an acre for Legacy Farms to use as a hands-on classroom. The 2015 Summer Garden Project was the Legacy Farms’ pilot program.
Last summer’s program allowed the staff to gather data and create a curriculum that would teach a basic understanding of what it is like to work in a farming environment.
Of the 18 participants from 2015, 6 are currently employed at ECHO, 4 are in High School, 1 moved out of the area, leaving 7 who were eligible for employment, and 3 who successfully secured jobs in the community working at local farms and vineyards.
The goals at Legacy Farms were to create a program that would:
•Provide a teaching garden for adults with autism, as well as those with developmental and social challenges.
•Raise awareness by demonstrating participant’s skills, while educating the public about autism and the need for more vocational solutions.
•Improve community resiliency through gardening education programs, workshops and a hands-on demonstration garden highlighting a variety of gardening techniques.
Legacy Farms is currently accepting applications for the 2016 Summer Garden Project and hopes to add 15-20 participants this year. This year’s Summer Garden Project begins on July 5, and runs through August 5. Sessions are held Tuesday-Friday from 10 am to noon.
Patrick Cox, the Legacy Farms director of community relations explained that this program is not just for Loudoun County residents and that last year they had a participant from Fairfax County and one who came as far as Mt. Vernon.
If you are interested in the Garden Project or volunteering with Legacy Farms download the application and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long-time Loudoun County Public Schools employees, Martha Schoenberg and Brandy Carr, will be facilitating the summer program, along with volunteers and job coaches.
The Summer Garden Project has 5 separate workstations:
• Vegetable Garden
• Floral Garden
• Butterfly Garden
• Raised Bed or Accessibility Garden (the containers for this part of the garden are set at a height that is accessible for a person in a wheelchair)
Cox explained that as diverse are the needs of the autism community, so were the potential job opportunities on a farm.
Legacy Farms is offering four programs in 2016.
Seeds, Soil and Shovels
The introductory program begins in the greenhouse, allowing an opportunity to introduce participants to the tools and resources they will be using, while planting the seedlings to be used in the Spring and Summer Garden.
Let's Get Growing
Attendees will learn and participate in the transplanting of the seedlings grown in the green house into the garden at Temple Hall Farm. This will be a multi-weekend event and dates will depend upon season and growth of seedlings.
The Summer Garden Project
This 5-week hands-on learning opportunity will provide participants an opportunity to grow and maintain a working garden which includes watering, weeding and pest management.
Here participants will focus on preparing the garden for the winter. This will be the final program for the year and will occur over several weekends. Dates will be determined as the year progresses.
Legacy Farms does not charge for the agrarian job skills they are teaching participants and rely on donations, fundraising and grants.
“The length of each program is seasonal and our goal is to work with 15 participants in each program with the hope of landing 2-4 a job during each phase,” Cox said.
This year Legacy Farms received funding from the organization 100 Women Strong and are building a Green House in downtown Leesburg which will be accessible by public bus service. When the Green House is up and running they hope to grow flowers in the Winter and seedlings in the spring for next Summer’s crop.
“Last year we donated 300 pounds of vegetables to Loudoun Interfaith Relief,” said Cox. “It helped our participants ‘pay it forward.’”
He explained, this summer they are also hoping to partner and sell greens and herbs to local restaurants.
Cox explained that they are hoping to partner with a few local organizations to plant gardens throughout the community and then leave that organization in charge of caretaking. High Schools and the new hospital in South Riding are a few places they are considering.
Last year they created a garden at Paxton Campus in Leesburg.
“We collaborated with Legacy Farms to establish our garden last year to give our Paxton community the chance to learn agricultural skills,” said Jennifer Lassiter, Paxton Campus Executive Director. “Since then, several adults have learned the essentials of gardening. Everything grown in our garden is used on campus or donated to Loudoun Interfaith Relief, so it has helped us give back to our community as well.”
Community involvement has been key for Legacy Farms. Local businesses, nonprofit organizations and volunteers have been extremely supportive. There is even a Boy Scout whose Eagle Scout Project is to build a pergola to serve as a classroom at the garden.