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People with intellectual disabilities at The Resource Center have been supporting community gardening initiatives for years. Now they’re involved in a project growing produce indoors, without using soil.
The Resource Center’s Senior Day Habilitation Program on Harris Avenue in Jamestown is growing produce in a Tower Garden. The device uses aeroponics, a process of growing plants in an air or mist environment rather than using soil. The Tower Garden stands about 5 feet tall and uses a system of water, nutrients and grow lights. Seeds are planted in a growing medium and then inserted into pods on the Tower Garden. Up to 20 types of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers can be grown at one time.
TRC’s Senior Day Program received the Tower Garden from the Chautauqua County Health Network as part of CCHN’s “Creating Healthy Schools and Communities” grant. The five-year initiative, which was funded by a grant from New York State, began in 2015 with a focus on combating chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. As part of the grant, CCHN is collaborating with businesses to help them spread a culture of wellness through healthy eating and physical fitness.
When CCHN was looking to give a Tower Garden to local businesses, The Resource Center was a natural fit for several reasons. TRC has an employee wellness program that has received regional and national acclaim – The Resource Center’s STARS employee wellness program has been named one of the healthiest employers in Western New York in each of the past four years and has been ranked among the nation’s top-100 healthiest employers the past three years. TRC also recently adopted a workplace wellness policy that emphasizes healthy eating and physical activity.
In addition, people with disabilities and their support staff at The Resource Center have been part of several gardening-related projects in recent years. TRC has been involved in the GROW Jamestown initiative and had previously worked with CCHN’s “Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play” initiative by growing fruits and vegetables at the Senior Day Program.
TRC’s STARS Wellness Program has worked with the Chautauqua County Health Network through the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities Grant for the past three years. In February, 2019 TRC entered into an 18-month agreement with CCHN to operate the Tower Garden. Donna Trusso, the Manager of the STARS Program, said that once TRC knew it was going to receive a Tower Garden, she and others had to decide where to put it.
“We wanted to choose a site that would provide a hands-on learning experience and increased awareness of healthy food options,” said Donna, adding that TRC officials wanted the garden to be located in a site where it would be seen by a lot of people. TRC decided to locate the Tower Garden at the Senior Day Program, where the garden sits in the hallway inside the main entrance.
The Senior Day Program quickly dug into the project.
“Senior Adult Day Hab has been involved since day one of the process, which involved assembling the tower, deciding what to grow, care and treatment, and now seeing the daily progress of the plants,” Donna said. “We are very excited about this project and are very thankful that CCHN has provided us with this opportunity.”
The Senior Day Program is for older people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Self-advocates who participate in the program enjoy giving back to the community. Several have immersed themselves in the Tower Garden project by planting seeds, filling the garden’s water tank and tending the garden. The Senior Day Program gardeners have been growing a variety of items in the Tower Garden, including tomatoes, lettuce, bok choy, arugula, kale, and basil. The program plans to donate its bounty to the St. Susan Center soup kitchen in Jamestown.
Seniors are enjoying the Tower Garden.
“Everybody loves it,” said Nicole Witruke, Direct Support Professional Lead at the Senior Day Program, who has spent a lot of time on the Tower Garden project. Three wooden signs placed at the base of the Tower Garden carry messages that sum up the seniors’ attitude toward the project – “Plant Smiles.” “Grow Giggles.” “Harvest Love.”
“It is a fun project. It is not hard, involves our individuals and staff that support them, and goes along with our garden history and giving to the community,” said Debbie Rapp, the Supervisor at the Senior Day Program. “We connect with our volunteer partners, and since we are a senior program that is very invested in giving back to our community, this is a great opportunity to increase our ability to grow and donate fresh grown vegetables throughout the year.”
As part of the project, TRC must submit reports every six months that describe how the garden is being used. The Resource Center has one of 13 Tower Gardens that were bought in connection with the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities grant. Most of the other gardens are located at area schools, while a few have been placed at work sites.
The Chautauqua County Health Network is pleased that TRC is involved in the project.
“The Resource Center is doing a wonderful job building a culture of wellness. In addition to recently passing a worksite wellness policy, they are using the Tower Garden to teach healthy eating habits to their staff and residents,” said Mikayla Certo, CCHN’s Community Project Coordinator. “Chautauqua County Health Network is proud to be collaborating with The Resource Center on worksite wellness initiatives.”
People at the Senior Day Program welcome community members to stop by to see the Tower Garden and learn more about the program. To schedule a visit, phone 661-4720. To learn more about Tower Garden, the Chautauqua County Health Network or the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities grant, phone CCHN at 338-0010, extension 1209.