Growing Inclusive Community Gardens
"Food, Exercise, Friends, and Maybe Money"
Tomato harvest time in Parsons
It started out a modest proposal. In 2009, AT for Kansans (ATK) applied for a 3-year Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) recreational programs grant to develop 5 community gardens accessible to individuals with disabilities, seniors, and those with serious health conditions. They estimated they'd reach 150 people with disabilities each year (plus their social networks), fund some tools, some technical assistance, some structural modifications, and a little admin for local community garden coordinators. In their application they predicted gardening would have positive social, health, and employment outcomes, and dutifully explained how they would track, tally, and report them.
The enthusiasm they tapped into, however, no one predicted.
By the end of year one, the Kansas Inclusive Community Gardening Project closed the number of participants with disabilities it could reasonably track at 370--more than double its intended target. "And these are people with pacemakers, amputees, individuals with spinal cord injury, back problems, health conditions," emphasizes Program Director Sara Sack, "you name it, and all ages have been involved in the gardens!"
Employment outcomes, too, have already exceeded expectations. In its application, Kansas anticipated the social benefits of gardening could extend to "possibly new employment contacts." Yet by the close of year one, 6 participants had actually acquired work through their community garden. "It's the sleeper story about this initiative, I think," reflects Project Coordinator Sheila Simmons, "that there are individuals really getting work."
Low Hanging Fruit
ATK partnered with community gardens at all stages of development, from longstanding programs to those just starting up. Their idea was supported by a literature review that showed, nationally, community gardens were not conscious of accessibility issues, and that many even had policies that exclude practices at the heart of accessible cultivation. Vertical gardening was often banned for blocking light on other plots. Smaller more manageable plots were often unavailable.
Sack and Simmons helped new programs develop accessible policies and materials as well as physical spaces and structures, and worked to retrofit the practices, pathways and sheds of established gardens. All programs integrated data collection into their membership and orientation materials, including end-of-season surveys. All programs were the recipients of adaptive tools for their tool sheds.
|Raised container beds|
Outreach to potential gardeners with disabilities was accomplished through county extension services, ATK's 5 access sites, and of course, word of mouth. Which is why, Simmons says,
the impact of this program will now never go away. "We get calls from other gardens around the state. They've heard about us and they want to learn more." Indeed, according to Simmons, the garden that was the most hesitant to change initially is now the most fervent supporter of accessible practices. "They've seen what this means for them. These are people dedicated, after all, to spreading the word about gardening--to get you germinating seeds in February--and now they are reaching a whole new population of converts!"
Garden Plot or Job Reference?
Garden converts include people like "Henry," an older low-income gentleman with serious health conditions who had recently lost his wife. Henry joined the Parsons garden at the start of last season and ended up working there as much as three times each day.
"It anchored him," Simmons muses, "it brought him out where there is always someone to talk to. He was there with people of all ages. He loved to see the children, and he was so attentive to his plants that people began offering him work."
Indeed, Simmons saw how a community garden plot can go beyond addressing social isolation, but may also function like a compelling job reference: your plot a reflection of your punctuality, attention to detail, organizational skills, even creativity. "And we have stories like Henry's in every garden," she says.
Swords into Plowshares
Another surprise came at the Fort Riley military base. Simmons was there to talk to service members with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) about tools for memory and organization. "I went with Echo Pens and iPads and ended up talking about gardening!"
That's because the base is home to a large and ambitious community garden. Between 150-270 service members participate, many with head injuries ("though we do have a couple of guys gardening from wheelchairs," Simmons notes). Dubbed "The Warrior Garden," it helps feed kids at the Fort Riley day care center as well as gardener families.
ATK is providing Warrior Gardeners with adaptive tools and strategies for gardening with TBI--help that has proved to have a positive employment side effect. "These bases are massive," Simmons explains, "and a lot goes into grounds keeping and appearances. So it's interesting, in some cases the garden has enabled service personnel to revise their MOS's [military job descriptions]. They're out of their tanks, but still on active duty taking care of the grounds."
Examples of ATK accessible gardening strategies:
- Smaller plots
- Raised beds and wide rock pathways
- Vertical growing
- Drip irrigation system with accessible valves (different ways of turning water on and off)
- Adaptive tools in accessible sheds
- Accessible produce washing station
Program Nuts and Bolts ATK's 5 Inclusive Community Gardens:
- Hutchinson Community Garden
- Ft. Riley Wounded Warriors
- Elm Creek Community Garden, Iola
- Parsons Community Garden
- WIN Community Garden, Wichita
- Local garden coordinators
- Master gardeners
- USDA County Extension Agents
- 4-H Programs
- ATK access sites
- American Community Gardening Association
Sara Sack, ATK program director
Sheila Simmons, ATK project coordinator
Visit the Parsons Community Gardens Blog
Find your local community garden at the
American Community Gardening Association Web site.
Missouri's Gardens for Every Body
One quirky effort to reach farmers with disabilities becomes a national model... and a deep Web resource
For 13 years, the University of Missouri AgrAbility project has been running a program that provides strategies, tools, adaptive services, and education on accessible gardening. Funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), it began in 1998 as back-door outreach to farmers and ranchers with disabilities. "Because in '97-98 there were no farmers and ranchers with disabilities in the entire state!" kids Program Co-Director Karen Funkenbusch. "Anyway, AgrAbility couldn't find them."
|Gateway to the Gardens for Every Body Web site|
Funkenbusch's father-in-law--himself a farmer--came up with the gardening approach. "He told me I should go into the churches and talk about tools for the garden, since everybody has a vegetable garden." The presentations turned out to be popular--appealing to people's passions--and led to home visits with parishioners. "I'd get out there and it would be, 'Karen while you're here talking to Mamma about her garden, could you come look at my tractor? I've had a hip replacement, and I can't get up on my tractor."
Today Missouri AgrAbility works with 50 clients with disabilities each year.
To some, accessible gardening seemed to stray from the USDA AgrAbility mission, which aims to keep farmers with disabilities safely farming. But Funkenbusch persevered. "Agriculture includes your Victory garden, landscaping, horticulture, even agri tourism. And with vegetable gardening, most farmers bring their produce to markets, or church, or sell it at a road-side stand. These are all agricultural occupations if you bring in $1000." (Missouri AgrAbility is currently helping a veteran start a niche market horticulture business; they've had a farmer put a cabin on his land for turkey hunting, and another use his silos for ice climbing.)
Armed with this justification--as well as adapted wheelbarrows, shovels, and hoes--Funkenbusch reached farmers and ranchers of many communities. "We work with Latino, Hmong, Amish, Mennonite, African American, you name it."
From 1999 to 2008, arthritis-specific funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to the MU Medical School allowed for program expansion and the development of more resources, including the Gardens for Every Body Web site. These days most AgrAbility programs around the country have a gardening component using the Gardens for Every Body materials. And these days Funkenbusch, herself, gives fewer presentations and instead supports the activities of her program's extensive partners.
Gardens for Every Body Partners
- University of Missouri Extension specialists, including Master Gardeners, are trained in Gardens for Every Body and provide workshops, outreach and referral in rural and urban churches, libraries, and community centers statewide. (Every USDA AgrAbility program works through a land grant university and its extension services.)
- Centers for Independent Living (ILCs) provide Gardens for Everybody information and referral and help AgrAbility clients navigate state resources. (Every USDA AgrAbility program works in partnership with nonprofit disability organizations and MO AgrAbility partnered with the ILCs at the advice of the state's Tech Act program--the first AgrAbility program to do so.)
- MU's Dept. of OT/PT students. This partnership, one of the program's first, has had statewide impact. Students learn about Gardens for Every Body and adapt a tool for particular client needs. They then graduate and work in a variety of settings throughout the state, sometimes starting accessible garden programs, often calling Funkenbusch or their local University of Missouri Extension Center with client referrals.
- Nursing homes: another spot where MU students land. This has lead to advising facilities on creating accessible gardens.
- Rural County Health Nurses: Funkenbusch partners with nurses doing outreach on arthritis to integrate Gardens for Every Body information and referral.
- USDA Farm Services Agency: provide AgrAbility outreach materials and referrals to farmers and ranchers who come in to apply for loans.
- Vocational Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RFB), and the Veterans Administration (VA) are all sources of funding for AT for vocational purposes. Newly returned veterans are a new focus area of Missouri AgrAbility.
- Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart donated tools, gadgets, equipment and materials. Funkenbusch reports these were easy donations to obtain simply by going into the stores and asking.
- Missouri AT program helped MU obtain the AgrAbility grant to begin with and continues to provide referrals and consultation to the program.
Spend time learning about garden tools, strategies, structures, and systems at the Gardens for Every Body Web site.
Karen Funkenbusch, program co-director
University of Missouri AgrAbility Project
Great Adaptive Recreation Resource: The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)
Check out the Lifetime Sports pages of this Web site out of the University of Illinois at Chicago! Here is a wealth of information on playing and adapting nearly a dozen sports, from bocce and golf to sled hockey and Tai Chi. Learn how games are played, watch videos of players playing with adaptations, and find equipment suppliers in your area. NCPAD Lifetime Sports
|Bocce ball player using a chute|
Also, if you are looking for accessible and adaptive recreation and/or fitness programs in your state or region this summer, NCPAD houses a state-by-state and town-by-town program directory. Find everything from adaptive sailing in Vermont, to deer hunting in Arkansas, and golf in California. The directory is also a summer camps resource. NCPAD Programs Directory
NCPAD is a program of the Dept. of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois- Chicago and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nifty Product: The Mobi-chair
>From the makers of the
Mobi-mat--the portable beach access path--comes the Mobi-chair. Made of corrosion resistant alluminum and steel, the Mobi-chair rolls on sand, floats in the water, and folds for convenient storage and portability.
Try the Mobi-chair for free in Florida! Five Sarasota County beaches have them available at no charge -- Lido Key, Siesta Key, Nokomis, Venice and Manasota Beach.
Learn more: visit www.mobi-chair.com
Also, for a discussion of additional beach mobility products, check out this Everyone Outdoors blog post. It's by the coordinator of the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation's Universal Access Program in Massachusetts State Parks.
Reminder: AT Program News makes no endorsement, representation, or warranty expressed or implied for any product, device, or information set forth in this newsletter. AT Program News has not examined, reviewed, or tested any product or device referred to in this newsletter.
Did You Know?
Iowa's IPAT Helps Fund UNI Wheelchair Sports Camp
Staffed by experienced athletes who use wheelchairs and coaches from across Iowa and Illinois, UNI Wheelchair Sports Camp allows Iowans in 3rd through
12th grade to learn and play wheelchair basketball, tennis, and track and field games. It is open to young Iowans with disabilities, whether or not they happen to use a wheelchair.
Iowa's AT program (IPAT) has been providing the camp with financial and staff support for several years, and starting last year it acquired adapted sports wheelchairs for the demo/loan center so they could be used by campers.
Camp is held each summer at the University of Northern Iowa. In addition to wheelchair sports, the program offers activities like rock climbing, movies, a dance, and talent show.
Learn more at this Uni Wheelchair Sports Camp Web page.
| Looking for A Great Accessible Beach?
Helpful advice from the blogosphere
TravelinWheels Highlights Accessible Beaches in North America Discusses beaches (and provides links) for California, Florida, US Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Mexico, and Hawaii.
|Sandy Neck Beach, Sandwich, Massachusetts|
Frommers: The Able Traveler. "Accessible beaches for everyone." Discusses beach accessibility features and where to find them.
TravelMuse: Beach Access
"How and where to plan an accessible family beach vacation." Discusses Florida, San Diego, Caribbean, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Roatan.
Cape Cod Disability Access Directory Upper, mid, lower, and outer cape thoroughly analyzed!
Gina Lynn Carson, M.Ed: "New Jersey Shore/Beach Accessibility" An assistive technology consultant blogs on NJ beaches and provides info (and links) for the whole state.
Guide to Hilton Head Beaches Discusses these SC beaches and provides wheelchair access info.
Virginia Tech post: "Hokie's Help Create Fully Accessible Beach Park" An article on the unique Grommet Island beach park and playground for every "body."
"Top 3 Accessible Beaches in Florida" A post from the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA).
Tips for Easier Gardening
From the Gardens for Every Body Web site:
If you have limited strength, mobility, or trouble getting around the garden, try some of the following tips for easier gardening.
-Karen Funkenbusch, MA and Willard Downs, PhD
- Put hanging baskets on pulleys so that they can be easily lowered for maintenance.
- When possible use lightweight pots for the patio or balcony. If using clay try having them set on a platform with wheels so that you can easily move them around when needed.
- If you have a large garden and are always forgetting things, try getting a few inexpensive tools and putting them in a plastic-type container (safe from the elements) near the bottom of the garden. This will save steps and allow you to prune and weed as you go.
- Try using a mailbox to hold small hand tools. There are great decorative mailboxes on the market that will add charm to the garden.
- Place stools, garden chairs or benches in the garden so that you can rest often.
- You can buy a garden cart to carry long handled tools but a plastic garbage pail on wheels works just as well and is somewhat cheaper. The wheels are adjustable on the back so they will stay in one place when you park it. The tools are where you need them and they don't fall.
- If your arms and hands are weak, use lightweight tools. There are many sturdy tools on the market, look for the ones made from nylon reinforced with fiberglass that is virtually indestructible.
- Hand tools with larger grip are easier to hang on to. You can enlarge or soften the handle by adding foam or a bicycle grip.
- Gloves are also good for griping, particularly when they have a ribbed surface.
- Have a hose holder part way into the garden so you don't have to carry it the entire way.
- Paint the ends of wooden handles a bright color so that when you drop them in the garden they are easy to see.
- Keep garden tools sharp to reduce the effort required doing the job.
- Vary your tasks. A full day of pruning will give any gardener blisters. Remember it's not a race.
(This article is also available for reproduction in state AT newsletters so long as credit is provided to the authors.)
Call for Content:
Back to School!
Have an initiative other AT programs should know about? Know of a good program to profile? September's theme is "Back to School." Send ideas or submissions to email@example.com by July 31st. And thanks so much for your ongoing enthusiasm for this newsletter!
-Eliza Anderson, ATPN editor/founder