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How A Tri-Taylor Farm Helps Young People With Autism Transition Into Adulthood And Find Jobs 

The autistic young adults who maintain the farm can bring home as much fresh produce as they want while they work to develop independence.

Students pose for a photo on Urban Autism Solutions' 1.2-acre farm.
Provided//Urban Autism Solutions
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TRI-TAYLORElvis Sanchez, a 22-year-old with autism from the West Side, spent three years working on a community farm designed to help young autistic adults become more independent while providing fresh food in a community that needs it. 

“I enjoy working on the farm, it’s helped me a lot,” Sanchez said. “I’d say they taught us how to be yourself and to have confidence.” 

Urban Autism Solutions founded the farm ten years ago to provide more resources for autistic young people transitioning into adulthood, according to its website

Students with autism between the ages 16-22 from five schools across the West Side travel to the 1.2-acre farm at 2200 W. Campbell Park Drive as part of their curriculum. There, they learn about caring for plants, selling produce and everything in between. 

Students, accompanied by their school aides, rotate through different tasks as they help maintain the farm and sell its produce. 

Credit: Provided//Urban Autism Solutions
A student works on the farm with Urban Autism Solutions’ program.

People with autism tend to struggle with social skills, repetitive behaviors and communication but each person’s experience varies, according to UAS’ website. 

The program is designed to teach skills that increase independence and can help them find employment, like how to interact with coworkers and supervisors, navigate public transportation and complete light chores, Executive Director Heather Tarczan said.

“Nobody really knows what they’re doing at first,” Tarczan said. “You’re getting dirty together, you’re hot together, and it’s this equal playing field that everybody is able to participate in no matter what their skill level.” 

Urban Autism Solutions organizes social events and connects students with jobs, Tarczan said. Staff also works to ensure students’ basic needs are met. The organization, for example, held a winter clothes drive last year. 

The program’s “transformative” power comes from “sweating together” in nature, Tarczan said. She said she’s watched students who at first find it difficult to make eye contact slowly get comfortable engaging with their peers and work supervisors. 

“They’re getting fresh air and exercise, they’re away from their devices,” Tarczan said. “Everybody’s starting something new together. Everybody’s getting tired together. Everybody’s working together and that’s what makes our program work.” 

Most of the students at UAS live in poverty and don’t have easy access to fresh food or safe, outdoor spaces. The farm is able to provide both. 

Those who work on the farm get first pick of the produce sold at its farm stand and subscription service. They can take home as much as they want for free. 

Credit: Provided//Urban Autism Solutions
Students show off some of the produce they grew at the Urban Autism Solutions farm that will be donated to local food pantries through Grace Seeds Ministry.

Tarczan said it’s usually difficult to get the students to take fruits and vegetables home at first because they’d rather have food they’re used to. To combat this, Urban Autism Solutions shows students how to make basic recipes from the ingredients they’ve harvested and lets them taste-test in a supportive environment. 

“We’re constantly making sure that people can take home all that they want and that it’s not just like a random head of lettuce,” Tarczan said. “Sometimes the kids that are the most reluctant to try it will end up actually really liking it. Granted, they may be loading it up with salad dressing but at least they’re trying something that’s a little bit different.” 

The organization also donates about 20 percent of the food to Grace Seeds Ministry which distributes it to nearby food pantries, Tarczan said. 

“We distribute the produce back into the same neighborhoods that the majority of our students are from,” Tarczan said. 

Through Sanchez’s work at the farm, he secured a job at Walmart a year ago and credits those at the organization for helping him get there. Sanchez said the program helped him make a few friends and taught him it’s good to ask questions. 

“They helped me get a job because they showed me how to do interviews and told me about dressing well,” Sanchez said. “They helped me find out what I needed to do and I can always ask them if I have any questions.” 

Tarczan said she hopes to see employers become more open to hiring and accomodating adults with autism and other disabilities. 

“The fact that everyone’s different is what makes the world an interesting place to live,” Tarczan said. “People with autism just want a chance like everyone else. They want to be a part of society. Their social interactions might look different than someone who’s neurotypical, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy participating in something.” 

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