Breaking Ground

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Pawpaws at Forested

Something exciting happened in the world last June.

It wasn’t loud or fancy. Nor noticed by many people.  Even those involved were mostly hot, itchy, and felt harassed — but then most births are not comfortable experiences.  And this was a birth in a garden.

Lincoln Smith, Tia Bazemore, Kevin Jones, and Ben Friton  in the fields of Forested LLC            June 2016

Last June, Tia Bazemore supervisor of programs at Owen’s adult daycare, New Horizons Supported Services Inc (NHSSI) came with her associate Kevin Jones to check out Forested LLC, a teaching garden in Mitchellville, Maryland.  Tia and Kevin came to see if the garden might be an opportunity for the special needs folks under their care to engage with nature, to volunteer in and be a part of a new community. Tia and Kevin met Forested’s creator, Lincoln Smith, and his right hand man Ben Friton. I was there too. I claim to be the spark that got it started.

After that June day, all last summer and into the fall, a small group of folks came from NHSSI on Wednesdays to help out, and to taste what forest gardening is all about.

Some of the mulching team from New Horizons

A “forest garden” is a sustainable way to grow food that works within a forest ecosystem. Rather than planting and replanting annuals that die each winter, forest garden systems rely on perennial plants and trees. There are many plants for food that are unknown to most American eaters, including me.  Lincoln was open to having people from New Horizons come out and help and learn in his gardens, when I approached him with the idea last spring. But he did not anticipate how much mulch his new friends from New Horizons could move!

Largely due to the efforts of Kevin Jones,  who not only drove them but worked side by side with a pitchfork, the NHSSI volunteers blanketed a surprising number of trees and shrubs with mulch, shoveling and dumping wheel barrows-full of wood chips. They also were offered fruit or vegetables grown at Forested to taste: tomatoes, “ugly apples,” lemon grass, or plums. Homegrown looks different than stuff at the grocery store. In the fall they planted a small bed of garlic.

“I like to get them out from behind their technology, and into nature, ” explains Kevin, when I asked what motivated him. “I’d like them to learn about farming.”


How many gardening-type jobs can the individuals from New Horizons handle? We don’t know. So much is still to figure out. This was just a humble little connection between an adult day care organization and a local business.  Only once a week, for a few hours.  But I believe it was the beginning of something good.

Rightly proud of their work – July

And still humble and simple as it was, this opportunity could not have happened without the passionate interest of five people.   Lincoln is passionate about the ecosystem that feeds him, and Ben about helping people around the world grow their own food (check out his website CanYaLove), and special needs folks. Tia Bazemore loves the idea of her people getting out into the sun, and also letting people see that they can help. Kevin loves learning about how plants make food himself, and without his drive to make sure this group got a van, the whole thing would have fallen apart. I of course am pretty passionate about my boy’s quality of life. As the spark, the idea generator, my job was bugging people: starting it, and restarting it, and smoothing the channels of communication, standing in for Lincoln or Ben when they couldn’t be there, bringing water and fruit and veggie snacks to share under the canopy when our work was done. It took all five of us. So I don’t mean to say “this is easy.”  I mean to say “this is important.”

Owen is one of the group that comes every Wednesday, with his one to one aide to keep him out of trouble.  He is not particularly drawn to gardening. But he can haul mulch, and he feels good when he has done something useful, when he has been (or been made to be) part of a team. Get out into the sunshine and sweat a little. Unwilling as Owen is, he still can make a contribution.  And the others on the team of volunteers are truly volunteers – they want to be there. They take satisfaction in that work. And that is exactly the point of the project.


Planting garlic with the guys in October


As Ms. Tia says, “It’s important to me for people to see that these folks from New Horizons do not just need help – they can be helpers. They can be part of the solution.”

How many systems and how many ways can we find for those we call challenged to be contributors?  It seems obvious to me that a life of usefulness as an integral member the community is beneficial to the individual, outweighing the value of even a safe and cared-for, but segregated existence. But how do society and the workplace benefit by the presence that someone with an intellectual disability (for example) brings to it, something apart from the skills each brings like any other human? There is something – parents (tired as they are) know it.  Those who love working with special needs folks know this well, and it is what they love. While hard to quantify, its presence is palpable. If you have a person with special needs in your life, and you imagine that person removed from your life, then you can see it. What is “it”? I would call this presence a sphere of innocence.

Exposure to all kinds of people is a valuable part of ongoing adult education. But regular contact with the sphere of innocence is part of education of the spirit. Regular contact with a person who is “different” can slow us down, might cause us to reflect, maybe re-think our over-full agendas. How would you measure that? Longer life? Less cancer?

Says Lincoln “The people [from New Horizons] are such a delight to be around. Cheerful, upbeat, willing.  It’s just nice being around their spirit – their energy.”

And Ben put it into words this way: “With New Horizons folks joy is expressed in their whole bodies and faces. For me, as someone who does the grunt work everyday, their joy in contributing [to what we are doing] is a delight. It brings me joy.”

How do you value joy — or positive human energy?  Truly, it’s presence hard to quantify on a balance sheet. But then again who wouldn’t want it?


Post Script – I would like to get the names of these volunteers from NHSSI under these photos – as soon as I can get that info I will add it! But it’s time to get this article published!!









Glory Day

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I knew there was no point in leaving the collards in the orange and purple bag. I took them out as soon as I got home, and squashed the greens for the chickens into two zip-lock bags. I tucked those zip-lock bags into the door of the refrigerator.  And I tied the old shoestring around the fridge door handles in three square knots.

And I left the beloved cello bag for Owen to find

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After this generous act, I was a little stung to discover the organic baby tomatoes demolished the empty box put back, pointlessly hiding on the stack of plates. And, in a different cupboard, half a chewed pear sitting on top of the box of pears I thought I had hidden!

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It’s true, I knew that leaving the Glory Collards bag in Owen’s drawer I had removed about half the fun from the whole thing. A good part of the incentive seems be the sneaking behind my back, or catching the fridge open, or getting the old shoestring’s 3 square knots untied (Mom: is this possible?!), and escaping quickly.  Otherwise, why not just ask?  I do feed this kid. All the time. One day I found him and stopped him with the green plastic box of mushrooms three separate times, until he finally got them both, (Does he really know how to untie 3 square knots?! He must know how to untie 3 square knots!!) and emptied the mushrooms into the bathroom trash basket, no doubt while I was outside deep breathing in the garden. You know, perhaps, those scenes between the gibbering twitching Chief Inspector and Clouseau in The Pink Panther movies? That’s me, looking for my missing mushrooms, frothing at the mouth.

In a three week period during which I have multiple events to run (because I volunteered for them), and Edward has several trips, and we were trying to rent an apartment, and to get the gardens planted and figure out what to do with the broody hen (read more about the Simons Gardens at suburban it is I guess not surprising that Owen should become really, really difficult. Spring is busy. But I think it also has a lot to do with what he has been finding in the trash cans.

That is to say, what he has been eating.

I will never forget, as an undergrad at Temple University in the 80s, in the darkened and packed auditorium, the psych lecture on Pavlov and his salivating dogs. And more pertinently the mice and VARIABLE REINFORCEMENT.  How could the professor know how many times one student would reflect upon his lecture, over years of raising children and dogs? Variable reinforcement, more effective than consistent reinforcement.  We learned in that darkened auditorium that if mice were given a reward every time they performed a behavior, this was not nearly as powerful as if they only sometimes got the reward. The power of uncertainty — will there?… or will there not?… be something GOOD at the bottom of the trash can?? — is something that my son Owen has manifested beautifully this past couple weeks.

If, for example, one day well after Easter you happen to see something lurking under a few layers in the kitchen trash can, as you lean over the kitchen gate and flip the lid up super quick before anyone can stop you —  and that thing turns out to be a cracker – OR a bag of assorted leftover crackers! – which Mom foolishly only partially concealed – WELL! who knows what yummy food source might be found under layers of garbage at any moment! in any trash receptacle!

Owen’s prescience is amazing. First he scoped out those crackers in the kitchen trash can. Then he dug up a bag of gluten free bread out of the back bottom refrigerator drawer and ate 4 slices, satiating and also further firing his awakened carbohydrate cravings. Days later he struck it rich in my bedroom trash basket where I had put (underneath stuff) the aged Halloween popcorn balls from G’mom, cached for absent college children at their request, rediscovered too late. I knew it was a little risky, but figured what are the chances of Owen looking into my bedroom trash basket? There’s never anything good in there.  On any other day it has nothing in it but dead Kleenex and scrunched up dry cleaning bags. (Dry cleaning bags are not cool plastic – Owen has zero interest in them.) Of course I forgot they were there at all. Until Owen’s archaeological dig left the spoils floating on top.

So, his system wrecked on carbs and then hard sugar, Owen became irritable, unresponsive, unable to understand basic instructions, or to speak, incontinent, surly, and just generally difficult. And mom, try as she might to start calm and positive, wound up frothing.  Being bought off with a orange and purple cellophane Glory Days collards bag at that point is just an insulting bribe. He took it of course – and shredded it – but he didn’t enjoy it. Everything we had to do became a struggle —  walks, supper, getting dressed, getting dressed again, getting out the door, coming to the table, staying at the table, pulling up a sock — a long, drawn out, mulish Idon’wanna until my nerves were raw.

Times like this, I understand completely why parents of kids with behaviors take off into the sunset. I start to have visions of climbing on a bus going south and west til my money runs out.  Yeah right. But it was really, really good to see Edward back home from his second trip Tuesday night, and to have Kathie take Owen all Wednesday afternoon.  And when Owen came home from his Wednesday afternoon with Kathie he came right to me in the kitchen where I was making soup and laid his head on me and gave me an Owee hug. Spontaneously.  Very unusual.

And in that hug I heard or felt this “I am sorry for being such a butt head this past week.  I am glad you are still here. I forgive you for being so angry at me.  I am not angry at you any more. Also, I am really glad you are making my supper, instead of working on a project somewhere else. It smells good.”   

Huh. Did that just happen?

Something to treasure. Even better than a cellophane bag.  Glory be.

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Pears, incognito