Confidence Grows at the Kinney Center

Whole Kids Foundation grant supports aeroponic garden in Gabriel Hall

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

by Katie Smith '15

The harvest abounds at Saint Joseph’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support, where students on the spectrum are tasting the herbs and vegetables they planted this summer. The Kinney Center purchased the aeroponic gardening system in April after receiving a $2,500 grant from Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation. The project also received $5,000 from the Whole Foods in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, during its Five Percent Fundraising Day in October 2016.

The garden features basil, thyme, parsley, sage, peas, green beans, tomatoes and five varieties of greens grown within four aeroponic towers located in Gabriel Hall. During the annual Camp Kinney, young people on the Autism spectrum planted seedlings while learning about gardening and agriculture. Kinney adult learners now use the harvest as ingredients for skills classes and cooking programs.

“Our adult day students complete all of the harvesting and maintenance with their one-on-one staff member,” says Ryan Hammond ’13 (MBA), executive director of the Kinney Center. “This project allows us to equip adults on the spectrum with practical job skills.”

The Kinney Center collects data on the students’ performance to measure their progress throughout the term. As adult learners work in the garden, “we have seen progress and greater independence in completing job tasks,” says Hammond.

The project further teaches students about healthy nutrition. Hammond explains that often individuals on the spectrum exhibit restrictive diets, such as only eating a certain food or foods of a specific color. Offering a hands-on look at new vegetables takes away the fear of trying new foods.

“I have seen students take a piece of lettuce while harvesting and give it a try,” says Associate Director of Adult and Transition Programs Arianna Esposito ’14 (M.S.). “Our learners feel confident trying new things, because they are involved in the entire growing process, from seedlings to harvest.”

Kinney staff also send home visual recipe guides that encourage learners to incorporate new foods into their daily lives with their families. One of the most requested recipes is kale chips.

“The garden project has been an incredible boost to our students’ confidence,” says Hammond. “We’re excited to see where this program takes us.”

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