For the clients of The Green Express Studio, making a garden is about more than just embracing the spring.
Their new garden, housed at Overland Park Presbyterian Church, will help these individuals with disabilities eat healthy and be part of the community.
Green Express, an adult day program, has 30 clients with mental or physical disabilities, or both. Most of them cannot work in the general community. The program already allows these clients to earn small paychecks recycling cans and paper.
Now their clients can add gardening to their lists of skills. The group officially broke ground on their two raised garden beds Friday, with help from Henderson Engineers Inc., Suburban Lawn and Garden, Family Tree Nursery and Hy-Vee’s One Step Community Garden Grant. The church also will assist with the water bill for the garden.
Green Express is applying for more grants to help sustain the garden and even build more raised beds in the future.
For this year’s crops, the group is following the advice of local master gardeners, and planting tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and cucumbers. Those are plants that don’t require a great deal of space to produce a decent harvest, and they also tend to be vegetables that people like to eat.
Because the gardens are planted in raised beds, they’re at just the right height for individuals in wheelchairs to tend to the gardens.
Clients at Green Express will help water, weed and add compost to the garden. The organization’s executive director, Harriet Sore, said they’re already enthusiastic about the project.
“They are super excited,” she said. “They can’t wait to go out and start weeding.”
When it’s time to harvest the produce, the Green Express clients will get to take some home, and they’ll give away some to other disabled individuals in the community.
Adult programs like Green Express provide a structure for people with disabilities who age out of the school system at 21.
“After age 21, there is nothing for them. The ones that come to our day service, they lack the skills to work in the community, so many will stay home without anything to do,” said Sore. “We give them an option to come and be part of the community. … If they stay home, they lose social skills, so they become loners.”
It can be difficult for parents and other family members to provide care and activities all day, every day for these individuals, and that’s where these programs can really help.
With the garden, Sore also hopes to foster more feelings of responsibility and self-reliance in her clients.
“(I want them to say:) ‘I tend the garden. I can do this. I don’t have to sit back and feel defeated,’ ” Sore said.
Clients come to Green Express through the state of Kansas as part of the KanCare/Medicaid referral system. Right now, most of the Green Express clients are in their 30s, although overall they range from early 20s to early 50s.
“We struggle with a lot of obesity. They’re on limited incomes. They cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables a lot of the time,” Sore said. “We knew if we can have this (garden), they will come and eat the vegetables. The parents especially, they feel it’s is going to help their loved ones who struggle with weight and money issues.”
Sore said they haven’t worked out the details yet as to how they’ll give away their extra produce to people outside Green Express who have disabilities, but she hopes to have a monthly or weekly giveaway set up soon.