I got a call a few weeks ago from Sheila of Farming Independence, a nonprofit organization working with developmentally disabled adults. The purpose of this group is to provide them with training in animal husbandry, gardening and other areas where they may be able to apprentice and eventually get employment. She asked if I would be willing to assist with the gardening program. The universe works in strange ways, because I had been talking to friends for years about trying to do something like this in the future. I was very intrigued and agreed to meet her and the group of clients she was putting together.
Her property is very large, with horses, goats and Sicilian donkeys. There is ample room to grow vegetables. I met the first group -- Chris, Kevin, Dan, and Sebastian. Ashley is the supervisor for the group. All of them were eager to start working in the garden, which needed a good cleanup after the winter rains. Taking rakes, brooms and bags they all chipped in to help get the leaves and debris bagged. Chris was the most talkative of the group and at a level where he could work well without much supervision. Kevin was very quiet, he mostly stood and watched -- but helped somewhat. Sebastian was a hard worker, but was having a hard time with the dust getting into his throat and he had to start and stop frequently. Dan was also very talkative, eager to help out where he could and moved several of the stepping stones we needed to clear out to create the new vegetable beds.
Over the past few weeks I have seen them progress each week in amazing ways. We have started with the planting. Kevin who rarely spoke began to open up about two weeks ago. No more staring out into space but talking about music, plants -- and the one subject he really loves: horses. Sebastian doesn't have the coughing issues he had in the beginning with the dust. He loves travel and knows a lot about different countries and parts of the United States. Dan and Chris can talk on almost any subject -- but today I started to show them the basics of installing an irrigation system. A special treat for all of us was to see the blacksmith -- farrier, as Kevin explained they were now called -- shoe the horses. I had never seen that before and watching him removed the shoe, shave and file the hoofs and then put on the new shoe was pretty cool I have to say.
So far the guys have planted tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and zucchini. Next week, beans. They will start to harvest the lettuce next week for their lunches.
I have to say this has become the highlight of my week. The guys are fun and easy to work with, and they get a kick out of the simple pleasures in life. Watching a horse being shod, planting vegetables and seeing the progress from week to week may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I have to agree with the guys -- this is cool stuff.
We had a new addition a few weeks ago -- Mark. Mark is a die hard Minnesota Viking fan -- I remember all too well as a former Ram fan the beatings we took in the snow by Fran Tarkenton, the then Viking quarterback. Mark has a bit of trouble with heights -- steps to be exact. He did make it up the steps though to do some planting and that was great. He is learning to use the electric blower and really enjoys it.
Before I head out to Farming Independence, I attend a business networking group. It can be quite a change, and not in the way you might think. My networking group this morning was turned into a shouting match due to a "leader" (quotes intentional) who felt she needed to impose her power on the group which resulted in an outburst of anger by her towards one of the members. The insecurity and lack of emotional restraint on her part was striking. She is someone that has had a lot of problems and issues in the year I have been a member. She also has a developmentally disabled mother. But can this be used as an excuse for lashing out at members and behaving unprofessionally?
As I entered the gates of the farm after my morning meeting, I was greeted as usual warmly and the guys were all ready to work and learn as usual. The thought struck me -- how do we define developmentally disabled? Clearly the woman at the meeting this morning, who is thought of as being fully functioning (and this was not the first time she has behaved this way) was not fully functioning, and I wonder how often she really is capable of that. We seem to forgive these emotional outbursts of anger as being normal and acceptable. But someone that takes longer to complete a task or who needs more instruction is labeled as disabled and society marginalizes them. I just wonder if someone who is not capable of having a rational discussion over a fairly minor issue in a business meeting is not essentially disabled as well. And perhaps all labels like these are part of the problem. I think pigeonholing someone into a group is perhaps the worst offense.