Farm grows vertically, helps adults with autism
HACKENSACK — New Jersey provides a home to more people with autism than any state, and a government-funded farm that grows greens vertically is donating all proceeds to an organization that helps them.
Greens Do Good opened in April 2019 as an initiative of the REED Foundation for Autism that operates a private school for youngsters with autism and works to reinforce life skills, cultivate community and provide employment training opportunities to adults. Many with autism would otherwise “fall off a cliff” at age 21, REED representatives say.
Greens Do Good sells its products wholesale to area restaurants and grocers and intends to provide employment to adult program participants, REED Public Relations and Communications Consultant Megan Ascsik said.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal development in areas that affect communication, cognition and social interaction, according to the National Autism Association.
In 2014, one in 34 eight-year-old New Jerseyans had autism as compared with one in 59 nationwide, a Centers for Disease Control report issued in April shows. Most are diagnosed at age 2 or 3 but can be diagnosed as early as six months, Autism New Jersey Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan said.
The CDC suggested that geographic differences in evaluation and diagnostic practices could play a role. About half of New Jersey’s children were not diagnosed until after age four, the agency noted. The differences likely reflect that New Jersey more thoroughly documents information and that other states could be missing autism diagnoses, Boyd said.
Giving birth at advanced ages and a lack of vitamins can also be tied to autism. A 2009 Medical Hypotheses report noted that increased autism rates between the 1980s and the early 21st century could be a result of the sun reducing vitamin D levels and activated vitamin D, or calcitrol, in developing brains.
Farms experiences have proven somewhat significant in developing individual and socialization experiences of children in the Netherlands who have autism — particularly when farm animals are present.
The youngsters were sent to the farm as part of short-term experiences intended in part to reduce their social isolation, support the development of friends and peers and help them enjoy a safe educational experience that promotes the well-being of customers.
The experience offered them structure, clarity and attention while farm animals served as ice breakers, co-therapists or objects that make them feel comfortable and secure, a March 2012 Wageningen UR Livestock Research report noted.
Farmers on the other hand expressed concerns related to the quality of the care that the children received and suggested that training could be improved.
The idea behind Greens do Good is to help with employment in later years.
“We want to see as many employed as possible in the work of their choice,” Buchanan said. “This is tremendous progress.”
REED claims that the organization works to ensure that adults with autism are valued and respected members of society. The organization works out of Ramapo College in Mahwah, which itself offers an integrative environment, according to REED.
REED is funded in part with a grant. The organization accepts Medicaid and provides limited transportation to and from the campus and accepts participants based in part on factors such as the ability to make meaningful progress. Staffing ratios are based on individual need.
The REED Foundation expects to enroll eight to 10 adults before December 2019, Ascsik said.
Greens Do Good grows stacks of microgreens, basil, kale and butterhead lettuce in ground coconut husks rather than in soil. The plants stay sated with help from continuously recycled water.
The farm lights the stacks with ballast flourescents, grows the greens within 30-40 days and packages them on-site.
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