City gardening helps autistic youths and young adults

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Nestled on the city’s west side, in the middle of the Illinois Medical District, an unexpected garden cultivating futures as well as flora.

“We’re growing everything from tomatoes, pumpkins, summer squash, onions, kale, collards beans and watermelons.”
Gwenne Godwin is head grower and farm manager of the Growing Solutions Farm, an acre and a half of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs all planted, maintained and harvested by young adults on the autism spectrum.

Twenty paid farm interns spend several hours a day, five days a week tending to the 13-thousand square foot garden. The fruits of their labors sold at farmers markets and donated to local food pantries. The lessons they learn here, pivotal to a successful future.

“We’re teaching them how to work with other people, when to show up on time and what to wear and we just happen to be using agriculture as that medium for them to learn so they can also get jobs in the agricultural horticultural field as well.”

“Young adults with autism right now have an unemployment rate that hovers around 90% it’s really a crisis.”
Julie Tracy is the founder of this project. And the mother to an adult son with autism.

“In the next 5 years 500,000 young adults with autism will turn 22 years old and age out of supports that are available in the public school system. Our society is ill prepared to deal with this tsunami is what we call it of young adults coming down the pike.”

Creating a path to a successful future. The goal of the growing solutions farm. Which started as a simple pop up garden in 2013. It hopes to become a year round, self-sustaining business in the next year with the help of the National Garden Bureau. Which just launched its first ever, ‘Growing For Futures’ campaign to build therapeutic gardens across the country.

“We all know that gardening is good for the soul, good for the body, good for the mind this particular one is a vocational therapy garden and so your day to day skills of pulling weeds, checking in for work, staking tomatoes. It’s all good skill learning for other careers these kids might be able to get.

“Put the clip on this side first.”

With the help of the N-G-B., a greenhouse will be built, 30 more beds will be added as well as fruit trees and a berry patch. And more importantly a larger staff of young adults with a chance at a much more ripe future.

“Paid employment on an individual’s resume with a disability is probably the single most significant indicator of success post high school years.”

For more information you can go to:

National Garden Bureau –

Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation –


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