Agriculture is feeding the community in a number of unique, and valuable ways through Wood Lane Farm, owned and operated by Wood County’s Board of Developmental Disabilities.
The non-profit Wood Lane Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program serves the community with farm fresh products while offering adults with developmental disabilities the unique opportunity to participate in all facets of the agricultural operation. The farm is both therapeutic and offers vocational training to prepare participants for other employment opportunities.
“This started with a family who had an autistic son. They found that gardening was great therapy for him. That family donated funds to put a small greenhouse up at Wood Lane to be used as a therapy center, but not a whole lot was done with it,” said Jessica Nagel, Wood Lane’s agricultural project specialist and farm manager. “Then the economy took a downturn and some of the first jobs cut were the lower function jobs and there were a lot of individuals with special needs who were losing their jobs. We had a lot of people coming into the program who had been home on the farm and had no skills other than on the farm due to financial challenges and family changes. We needed an outlet and the idea of a farm at that time seemed like the right fit. In 2010 they switched the greenhouse in town to a production facility and they started farming. We started with a shovel and a hoe.”
After that, a local business provided 8 acres for the effort and greenhouses at the Ag Incubator Foundation were used for the project. The farm now includes the two greenhouse facilities at the Ag Incubator Foundation site, 8 acres of ground at Principle Business Enterprises in Bowling Green and the initial greenhouse at Wood Lane.
“One of our industry supervisors is on the Ag Incubator Foundation Board, and he knew about our greenhouses being available and one day it all worked together,” Nagel said. “We have evolved since then, but everything that we do is done by hand from seed through harvest. Everyone involved has some type of developmental disability ranging in age from 21 to 65. We deal with everything from a mild autism to severe Down syndrome. We are working with at least 8 or 9 developmentally challenged people working here all the time, but the number goes higher in the summer when we are busier. We start everything from seed in the greenhouse and then we transplant outside or plant into a greenhouse bed.”
In total, the farm grows 206 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“There are a few melons and cantaloupes, 10 or 12 types of tomatoes, leeks and other more unique things like kohlrabi,” she said.
The final products are used in landscaping projects, served in the Wood Lane School Cafeteria, donated to local charities, and sold through the CSA program. The products are delivered to CSA customers at a number of local businesses in the Bowling Green and Toledo areas.
“People can get a 20-week summer share or a 16-week winter share. We deliver the crops to businesses so it is more convenient for people to get fresh produce,” Nagel said. “We go right to them. At 4:30 or 5:00 when they get off work, I am standing there with a bag for them. We deliver to Bowling Green and Toledo — about 50-50 — at a couple of different drop off locations.”
Along with the weather and the normal challenges of agricultural production, the Wood Lane project has to overcome some additional obstacles.
“There are two job coaches out in the field every day that are supervisory staff. They work with the crews so that they can succeed in their jobs. I handle all of the paperwork, sales, and planning,” she said. “The toughest part of what I do is educating the public about what produce looks like, especially when it is naturally grown, and that it will not necessarily look like what they get in the grocery store. We’ll have a cookbook up on the web this year and a vegetable guide so they can find produce, learn how to store it and prepare it. Right now there are around 90 shareholders. It is not generating a profit yet, and we are just looking to break even at first, and we are getting close to that. It should eventually make a profit.”
Customers can purchase a 20-week summer share from June 10 to Oct. 21 for $430 or $540 for a family. The winter share is 16 weeks from Oct. 28 to Feb. 19 for $250 a share or $450 for family.
The program is accomplishing a number of important goals for the community in terms of serving fresh produce (and education) to customers and providing valuable on-the-job training and therapy for the developmentally disabled participants.
The participants are primarily involved in the various aspects of production, but also get some sales and marketing experience. The skills they learn on the farm can translate well into other jobs.
“I love getting to work with the crew and see their growth. For the first time we let a couple of them do some of the sales. It was really neat to see them sharing what they know and what they have learned since they started,” Nagel said. “We see them gaining a lot of skills and eventually we would like to see them transition out of our farm and into other jobs where they can use the skills they are learning, whether that is in agriculture or something else. We want to see them learning the skills they need to succeed.”