At Independence360, clients age 21 and over on the autism spectrum participate in lots of activities that help them to discover new hobbies, interests and potential employment opportunities. We actively encourage our clients to participate in volunteerism with neighborhood organizations. Volunteering provides a great sense of purpose, increases self-esteem, and gives our clients an opportunity to practice job skills too!

Recently, as part of our horticulture program, clients volunteered with America’s Grow-A-Row, a non-profit whose mission is to donate produce to those in need. Everyone had a great time working on the farm together. Alexis M. was happy to share more about the experience!

Tell us about your day on the farm!

We went to the farm together in the I360 vans. There were 6 of us from I360 at the orchard. The first thing we did was introduce ourselves to everyone then, Jackie from America’s Grow-A-Row told us what needed to get done. She explained that all the apples that were left on the ground needed to be picked up and put in baskets.

apple on tree
The process of recovering windfall apples is called gleaning. This form of food recovery is used to salvage excess crops as well as “ugly” fruits and vegetables that cannot be sold – like apples that fall from trees. Gleaning helps curb food waste and addresses food insecurity.

We learned how to tell which apples weren’t good. Any apple with a bruise bigger than a dime was discarded. The ones that were not good went in a separate basket and all the apples that were good were given to people who don’t have food.

The apple trees were all in straight lines. Jackie assigned us to Row A. Together, we finished the entire row before our time was up and filled a giant box with apples for people in need. Other volunteers were also there working alongside us but in a separate row.

What was your favorite part of the day?

Alexis M. hard at work!

When everybody was done with picking their apples, I was the one who put the apples in the big container. Whenever anybody told me their container was full, I went to go help. It was really good teamwork. We each had a job!

We had lunch together in the van because it was freezing cold but we kept warm by working fast and moving around.

I would love to go back again!

What else do you like to do in the horticulture program?

I like to do composting at Independence360. We have a compost bin that is pretty big. Any banana peels or other leftover food products go into the compost bin outside. The compost turns into soil that is nutrient-rich and great for plants!

What’s one of your favorite things that you learned in horticulture classes?

I mostly like doing replanting and composting. I actually did some replanting today. That’s when you move the plants to bigger containers so they can grow more. I participate in horticulture classes every Monday and sometimes on Wednesdays.

Do you do horticulture at home?

Yes! I help with lots of yard work. I sometimes mow the lawn. That’s why we don’t get landscapers, because I’m the landscaper.

Alexis M. has been participating in horticulture activities with Spectrum360 since 2016. She grows vegetables every summer including cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and anything else she can get her hands on. Alexis grew her own cucumbers in Spectrum360’s greenhouse this fall. She even does her own composting at home! She loves watering plants, removing dead leaves and transplanting. Alexis’ dream job is to work at Home Depot in the Gardening Department.