The Urban Farm Program at Community Resources Staten Island (CRSI) is more than just a beautiful outdoor garden. It’s a place where organic plants grow, and adults with disabilities thrive.
Plants such as broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas and marigolds grow in the approximately 1,800-square-foot garden. Needless to say, a garden of this size needs a lot of TLC to remain viable. But that’s no problem for CRSI. The organization, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities reach their potential, has over 100 farm-loving participants in its day habilitation program who keep the garden looking beautiful and growing strong.
The overall goal is to teach life-long skills to participants and prepare them for work opportunities in nurseries, local landscaping businesses and similar jobs.
“The urban farm program gives meaningful work opportunities to people with disabilities. This includes people on the spectrum and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Michael DeGrottole, chief operating officer at CRSI, said. “The intent is also to get people to grow their own fresh vegetables and live healthier, more sustainable lives.”
The urban farmers—all between ages 20-60—learn job readiness, teamwork and other skills that help prepare them for work life. Thanks to their learned skills, hard work and—of course—their green thumbs, the garden has been a success. It started last year with just 12 garden boxes, but is back this season with a lot more space, more plants and cool new features.
The Urban Farm Program Expands
DeGrottole is part of a new leadership team at CRSI that took over in late 2020. He saw how successful the Urban Farm was in its inaugural year and wanted to expand it. He and his colleagues scouted for more space on CRSI’s 43,000-square-foot campus and stumbled upon an unused garage area. Voila!—it was the perfect spot to expand the garden.
“This year we wanted to go full force with this beautification project, so we went from a salvage yard to a full urban farm,” DeGrottole said.
The newly renovated farm has a gazebo that people can sit under and a paved stone walkway. There’s also a new ramp leading to the additional garden space, making it fully accessible and ADA compliant. Raised garden boxes help participants who have trouble bending and those in wheelchairs have better access. Plants so far this year include kale, scallions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and more. Staten Island’s Victory Nursery donated all of these early plantings.
Spring Planting Event
To help get the 2022 growing season in gear, CRSI is hosting an exciting Spring Kickoff Event at their 3450 Victory Blvd.location on Tuesday, May 10, 10am-12pm. It’s open to the community.
“Everybody can attend. We welcome community members. Part of this is so we can reach out to the community so they can understand the kind of meaningful work that the people we serve do,” DeGrottole said.
After the kickoff event, participants will get to work growing their vegetables through the spring, summer and possibly fall, depending on weather. Staff will set up a schedule and divide up tasks including watering, weeding, picking and more. The garden isn’t open to the public and the vegetables aren’t for sale, but helping the program participants get real work experience is something that benefits the community as a whole.
“People with disabilities can do productive things, and they can have meaningful work. This is all about training people to work even outside of our facility,” DeGrottole explained. “Our people can be very good employees.”
Timmy Slow, 37, worked at the garden last year and is excited to come back for the 2022 season. The skills he’s acquired growing lettuce, tomatoes and other produce are helping him get a part-time job in a local grocery store.
“You have to plant before you store,” Slow said. “We learn the benefits of planting our own garden, that way we’ll protect our Earth and we’ll eat healthier with fresh vegetables and fruits.”
The Urban Farm Program’s delicious food is enjoyed by participants and residents of CRSI’s group homes throughout Staten Island. Now that the program is bigger this year, a certain percentage of what is grown will be donated to a community shelter or food pantry.
All of the seeds and plantings come from local and national landscaping companies that want to help the program succeed. These include Victory Nursery, Bonnie Plants, Scotts Miracle-Gro.
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