Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago teaches life, job skills to CPS students with autism

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Monday, August 1, 2022
Chicago urban farm teaches students with autism vital skills
Students with autism and related challenges get life training and hands on skills working with Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Harvesting a variety of vegetables, weeding, washing and composting are all hands-on learning skills a group of students with autism and related challenges learn at Growing Solutions Farm.

The students also learn how to work.

"They are here at the farm learning transferable job skills, such as showing up for work in a uniform, learning how to behave during a work break," said Heather Tarczan, executive director of Urban Autism Solutions.

The urban farm on the West Side is part of a program operated by Urban Autism Solutions. The non-profit group has teamed up with five low income West Side Chicago public high schools. The group at Growing Solutions Farm Monday is from Al Raby High School.

"We are working with young adult students, typically between the ages of 16 and 22," Tarczan said.

Young adults with autism typically age out of their specialized school programs at 22 years old. Jobs are very difficult to get, especially for kids who come from challenging neighborhoods.

"A lot of students need routines, they need things that are familiar, so once you start working on a job multiple times over a handful of weeks, you see a lot of growth," said Matthew Wendel, special education teacher at Al Raby High School.

The hope is for the skills learned there to grow into a job opportunity elsewhere. Or even their own garden.

The food grown at Growing Solutions Farm is sold at a farmers market twice a week, and some of it is donated to food pantries in the neighborhoods where students live. They also get to take food home.

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