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August 17, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues

Join us at Rich's Foxwillow Pines on August 23

The latest stop on the Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden Summer 2014 Tour is in beautiful Woodstock, Illinois next Saturday, Augusty 23. Rich and Susie Eyre have graciously asked me to be a part of their Hosta Sale and Bolivian Arts & Crafts Fundraiser at Rich's Foxwillow Pines at 11618 McConnell Road. The sale goes from from 9 to 4pm. However, if you want to catch me there, you'll need to show up between 9am and noon.

All proceeds benefit  Heifer International, while the sale of beautiful Bolivian handicrafts benefits Mano a Mano International Partners.  Cash or check only. This year Heifer International marks its 70th year and Mano a Mano International Partners its 20th year. In conjunction with the garden event, the nursery will host speakers who will talk about their respective organizations. Call 815-338-7442 for more information.

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And I wouldn't mind a bit if you gave Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook...or even a good review at I ain't that proud, folks.

Fighting autism with gardening and farming

It happened quite by accident, but the over-arching theme of this morning's radio show is how growing things can make people healthier. I'm not talking about health in the sense of physical health--I'm referring to mental and spiritual health.

In January of this year, Clare Johnson, writing on the My Chicago Botanic Garden blog in a post titled Gardening and Autism, wrote,

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

In the spring and summer of 2013, I worked with two organizations and schools and led weekly horticultural therapy sessions in their outdoor gardens. We observed many benefits when engaging both children and adults on the autism spectrum.  For today, I'll discuss three primary benefits I observed: quiet fascination and stimuli reduction, the ability to follow direction, and tactile sensory integration.

The Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation /Urban Autism Solutions (JMTF) is a group that has been working to help people who live with autism--to have the same opportunities as their peers and siblings, to feel welcome and safe at home, and to be better integrated into their communities.

To that end, they have created the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago in the Illinois Medical District, featuring 28 16-foot raised cedar beds, 50 smart pots, 48 earth boxes and a full time grower and farm operations manager Gwenne Godwin. Recently, WGN TV did a piece about the farm, as did ABC7 Chicago. From the Growing Solutions website:

Teachers, volunteers and agency staff engage in daily work together with garden interns to develop the soft skills and resumes which will lead to future success in the workplace. All the while, we are presenting instructions to support individual gardeners using meaningful modifications with visual, printed and video models. We are able to offer paid employment for up to 20 gardeners to include stations within the farm as well as sales and eventual farm stand operations. Farm interns currently include residents of Project 1212, CPS students from Al Raby High School, Easter Seals Therapeutic School for Autism Research and private applicants.

And now, the National Garden Bureau has stepped up with its first-of-its-kind “Growing for Futures” (#growingforfutures) philanthropic program to build therapeutic gardens across the country. The NGB has made Growing Solutions the first beneficiary of their initiative, which will be an annual award. The goal is to raise $50,000 in cash and supplies to help support the continued growth of this innovative garden project.

Because part of the fundraising is through Indiegogo, they're counting on the support of gardeners everywhere to help support Growing Solutions. That means you, folks.

Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the National Garden Bureau, and Julie F. Tracy, President of the Julie and Michael Tracy Family Foundation, join me in studio this morning to talk about how you can help farming and gardening help others.

Real American heroes grow and teach others how to grow food organically

A couple of months ago, I received an email from Jeff Hake, who happens to be the Farmer Training Program Manager at The Land Connection. He wrote:

I wanted to bring to your attention a farm that was established this year in North Salem, Indiana. Alicia Moore and Sara Creech are military veterans who recently went through our Central Illinois Farm Beginnings course with the explicit intention of founding a non-profit farm that was focused on rehabilitating and training military veterans to become farmers. What they eventually established was Blue Yonder Organic Farm. They are in their first year and are currently working on establishing their production systems and profitability, while also developing their training curriculum to be launched next year.

Frankly, I don't think he knew what he was getting into, because I swooped down on him like a hawk on a field mouse--or in the case of my neighborhood, a rat.

I told him that I was very interested in this story and he put me in touch with the two women, whose farm is located in North Salem, Indiana, which is just west of Indianapolis. I very quickly received this message from Sara:

Alicia and I would love to talk to you about our Veterans program. We are really excited about the opportunity to connect with other Veterans who are interested in getting involved in agriculture. I think sustainable farming is a unique opportunity to offer a combination of small business opportunities for returning veterans, while at the same time offering healing. There is something incredible about working with plants and animals, that connects you with that piece of your "soul" that many war veterans feel they have lost forever. 

Another program you might be interested in talking about is the "Homegrown By Heroes" label that was rolled out nationally this year as a way to designate farm products/businesses as veteran owned and operated. It is an exciting way to offer the community a tangible way to support their military veterans. It is based on a pilot program through the Kentucky Dept of Agriculture and is now spreading across the nation. We are happy to be the first certified farm in Indiana and will be rolling out the program in the next few weeks!

Something rang a bell in my head as I was reading her email and I realized that I had recently received something from the State of Illinois about Homegrown By Heroes. As Sara wrote, it was started in Kentucky.A press release announced that the program was coming to the Prairie State:

Illinois veterans soon will have the opportunity to leverage a national branding campaign to help market their farm products. The Homegrown By Heroes initiative, a product labeling program, will allow Illinois farmers, ranchers and fishermen who have served or are still serving in any branch of the U.S. military to use a special logo on their agricultural products. Farmer training and education also are large components of the initiative, which will make informational resources available to veterans desiring to farm in the state.

Meanwhile, as Sara reported, Blue Yonder Organic Farm is the first farm in Indiana to be a part of the Homegrown By Heroes (HGBH) program. As they explain on their website,

HGBH requires that veteran farmers have written plans in place to deal with variety of issues, such as sanitation, growing standards, methods to deal with customer grievances, etc. The standards for this certification are high but well worth it in order to show customers that we grow and raise high-quality, nutrient-dense products which are free of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics.   When customers purchase items from Blue Yonder Organic Farm, they are not only supporting local agriculture but also supporting veterans through training, employment, and internships. At the farm veterans can find a calming environment while learning new skills. Veterans are exposed to a variety of agricultural production models, such as growing produce, raising livestock, and learning the basics of farm management.  

Additionally, we are tackling another growing issue: the lack of farmers in the US. Currently, the average age of the American farmer is 60, and there are not enough young farmers to replace those who are retiring. If we do not take an active role in our food system, who is going to feed us?

Indeed, that last question might be the most important of all. Where is the next generation of farmers coming from? Perhaps the answer is "the battlefield." I don't mean that to sound glib. I simply mean that we need farmers and our veterans need jobs and, often, a place to heal. I can't think of a better way to fill both needs than by growing food.

If you want to help fund this way of rewarding the people who have served our country well, you can support a group called Veterans in Apiculture and Agriculture (VIAA). While they are working on becoming a non-for-profit organization, donations can be made through The Land Connection, which is a 501(c)(3) organization. You can do that online here. If you donate online, please indicate that you would like your donation to help VIAA. Or if you would rather send by mail, make your check out to the Land Connection, and indicate in the memo line that you want it donated to VIAA. Mail checks to:

The Land Connection
505 W. University, Suite 203
Champaign, IL 61820

In addition to their website, you can keep track of Blue Yonder Organic Farm on Facebook. Sara also wanted me to give a plug the Land Connection's Central Illinois Farm Beginnings class, which starts on October 18 of this year. The deadline for registration is September 1.

I'm thrilled that Sara Creech and Alicia Moore have come to Chicago this morning to be in studio with me.







Julie F.Tracy

Diane Blazek

Sarah Creech

Alicia Moore