Nfld. & Labrador

'Like finding a treasure': Community garden grows work opportunities

A community garden at a centre for people with autism creates work opportunities as well as producing a bumper crop of potatoes, veggies and fruit.

'I find it a bit hard, but it's good work for me,' says Transitions Employment Program client

The Transition Employment team at the Elaine Dobbin Centre shows off its potato harvest. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

It's harvest time at the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism in St. John's, and clients dig deep for potatoes in a program that also helps them learn job skills.

"Well it's a two-year project and we are closing in on over 200 pounds of potatoes," said Megan Marshall, co-ordinator of the Transitions Employment Program.

Marshall was supervising the harvest at the community garden on Thursday.

"We love it here. If you look around, it's a stunning workplace but the important thing is it offers employment opportunities for our participants," said Marshall.

'Every year grows and grows'

"Everything you can see — the fencing, the beds, the garden plots — have all been made by my transitions kids who are here to learn about work."

Clients learn not only how to grow things, but how to build fences and garden beds. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

The community garden has grown to 40 beds, producing berries and vegetables, as well as spuds. Some of the produce is used at the Pantry cafe inside the Elaine Dobbin Centre, and four beds of potatoes go to a food bank at Bridges to Hope.

"Horticultural therapy" is how Marshall described it.

"It's hard to link people into the community so, we have almost eight acres of land, and we figured we need to create our own work opportunities," she said.

"It started small with a couple of garden plots, and then we needed a fence and then someone thought let's make an orchard and it just every year grows and grows."

Just some of the 200 pounds of potatoes grown at the community garden. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

Clients like James Keats, who started with the program in September, are learning the ropes.

"I find it a bit hard, but it's good work for me," said Keats.

Matthew Walsh said he wears gloves because he doesn't want to get hands dirty, but he's excited by this year's crop.

"It's just like finding a treasure on an abandoned island."

With files from Krissy Holmes