National Garden Bureau to plant seeds of assistance for young adults with autism

The National Garden Bureau has launched the first-of-its-kind “Growing for Futures” (#growingforfutures) philanthropic program to build therapeutic gardens across the country. This ongoing, annual, fundraising initiative is designed to cultivate horticulture careers and life skills, while also growing plants, vegetables, herbs and fruit for partnering organizations and communities.

This year, the National Garden Bureau (NGB), a Downers Grove, Ill.-based, non-profit organization, has chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as the first beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort. Growing Solutions Farm is a vocational program of the Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation/Urban Autism Solutions (JMTF), which serves, educates and trains young adults with autism. NGB’s goal is to raise $50,000 in cash and supplies to help support the continued growth of this innovative garden project.

The Growing Solutions Farm is located in Chicago’s Illinois Medical District, at W. Campbell Park Drive and S. Leavitt Street. This one-acre urban garden oasis is a nurturing environment where young adults with autism work together with an urban farmer, vocational coach, teachers, volunteers and agency staff to develop skills that can lead to career opportunities in the agriculture, horticulture, food processing and distribution industries.

“The National Garden Bureau was so deeply inspired by the Growing Solutions Farm that we’ve jumped in to help raise funds to make it a reality through our ‘Growing for Futures’ program,” said Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau. “We’re also pleased that, although it’s not yet completed, this Chicago therapeutic garden is already servicing groups, including Easter Seals and Chicago Public Schools.”

This summer, up to 20 young adults will work at the Growing Solutions Farm, learning to grow and care for plants, as well as gain practical skills in harvesting and cooking the produce that’s grown. These skills teach work ethics and processes, along with the necessary mechanics for independent living.

The farm currently has 28 raised garden beds, 48 Earth Boxes and 50 Smart Pots, featuring a variety of vegetables and herbs. Plans are to further develop the farm to include hoop and greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, a berry patch, fruit trees, native plant border and other produce.

“This therapy garden not only will provide teachable moments and memorable achievements for the participants, it will offer monthly cooking classes for autistic adults and a pop-up farmers’ market to sell produce in the Illinois Medical District,” said Julie Tracy, President, Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation/Urban Autism Solutions. “We believe the garden’s hard-working, enthusiastic and appreciative young adults will be an inspiration to the community.”

Autism is one of our society’s most misunderstood disabilities, presenting skill limitations in communication, social functioning, self-care and concentration. Experts estimate that 90 percent of people with autism are age 21 and younger. However, once these children reach young adulthood, they struggle to fit into society. By teaching applicable life and career skills through gardening and lifestyle training, JMTF is dedicated to addressing the specific challenges facing these vital young adults.

The National Garden Bureau will use a three-phase fundraising plan via Indiegogo to raise $30,000 in cash to support the Growing Solutions Farm. In an innovative twist, each donor contribution will translate into a tangible item needed by the garden. For example, a $10 donation will purchase a watering nozzle; a $25 donation will buy 50-feet of watering hose and so on. The NGB also hopes to garner another $20,000 through donated supplies from horticulture businesses.

For more information about this project or the National Garden Bureau, visit: and follow #growingforfutures on Social Media.

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