Community Vocational Garden started for autistic individuals

September 15, 2013

The idea of creating the multi-faceted garden was a joint effort between the Illinois Medical District Commission and the Julie and Michael Tracy Family Foundation, which was started by parents of an autistic young adult.

The garden contains 48 earth boxes blooming with flowers and vegetables.

"This project began the last week of May, we have a very focused 15 to 20 weeks growing project. We're measuring independence. We're measuring productivity. We're measuring engagement. We measuring satisfaction," said Julie Tracy, who's 's son John is in the program.

She understands challenges parents face when their autistic child turns 22.

"They are in desperate need for housing opportunities, vocational opportunities, social opportunities, and very good medical and psychiatric management," she said.

"The Urban Garden provides educational opportunities. It teaches kids about nutrition. It teaches them about health. We are learning about exercise and some wonderful horticulture skills," said Julie.

The garden is designed specifically for people with autism.

"We've discovered through our work that the raised beds are a wonderful structured system for adults with autism so that each individual working here can be assigned a specific set of boxes to take care of there. It allows them to be much more independent," said Julie.

The 20 gardeners were from two different autism organizations: Have a Dream in Evanston and Easter Seals.

Gardener Zac is 25 years old.

"I work in [the] garden, kill bugs," he told ABC7. "The gardeners, they have surpassed all of our expectations."

"We have been given such an incredible opportunity to use this land. It makes me so happy that our hopes and dreams are coming true so quickly. We have an urban residence that we are starting in the spring of 2014. We have this wonderful vocational project," Julie said.

Next year, the organizers are looking to expand with more garden space and gardeners.

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