Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities – Part 2


Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Part 2

1. Education, 2. I/D Disabilities

Hey Aquapioneers!

Last time we discussed a group of Hidden Farmers, the students in our educational system. These children will be the first generation educated about aquaponics in their formative years of schooling. However, they are not the only group of people that have the potential to grow food for their community using aquaponics.

Hidden Populations of Potential Farmers

In fact, there are many groups of what we call “Hidden Farmers”. These ar groups of people that derive benefits from growing with aquaponics beyond just the awesome food.

Other benefits of aquaponics include educational use as a cross-cutting teachers aid, use as a job-training tool, and the documented therapeutic and rehabilitative effects of gardening.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some of these hidden groups of “potential farmers”. We’ll see how they are already using aquaponics to change their lives for the better, all while supporting their community’s local food system.

This month, we are going to explore another of theses groups through our work with the Arc.

From their website: “The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. We encompass all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses including autism, down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities.”

The Arc is renowned nationwide. It is for their dedication to empowering individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. We are proud to say that we are working with them to develop using aquaponics to grow food as another way to benefit their population.

It is our belief that our aquaponics systems and programming provides therapeutic benefits to their individuals and simultaneously those individuals can provide a valuable service to the public in the form of fresh aquaponic food for sale! It’s a great synergy that gets the Arc’s clients more integrated and visible in the communities they serve and brings attention to the other awesome programs the Arc runs.

A Story About Alexa

In our work with the Arc we’ve met a lot of amazing people, but I want to tell you about a particular young woman, Alexa (I’ve changed her name for this story).

Before the aquaponics program at the Arc, Alexa had “frequent challenging behaviors”, as they say in the world of developmental disability agencies. A study from Cambridge University defines “challenging behavior” as, “culturally abnormal behaviour(s) of such intensity, frequency or duration that the physical safety of the person or others is placed in serious jeopardy, or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit or deny access to the use of ordinary community facilities”(Emerson, E. 1995). This sometimes happened multiple times a day.

Fast forward just a few short years and it is a whole new story. Alexa is no longer exhibiting “behaviors” of any kind. She still has some bad days (don’t we all?) but her tantrums are a thing of the past. What caused this transformation?

Well as it turns out, Alexa had it in her the whole time. All she needed was the chance to show she was responsible and capable of contributing to her community.

On any given day you may find Alexa burying scraps in the worm bins, feeding the hungry koi in the morning, or doing a 12-point daily inspection of the system to ensure it is operating as expected.

Thanks to the scheduled routine of systemcare, the structure provided by the daily checklists, and the close interaction with animal and plant life, Alexa is now a happy farmer. Her potential is being expressed to the fullest! She no longer feels the stress that caused her tantrums.

Empowering a Nationwide Population of “Hidden Farmers”

Trifecta Ecosystems has worked with the Arc at three locations in Connecticut (so far) to bring commercial grade aquaponics to their community of individuals. The response has been better than we could have even hoped for.

These two Arc locations now grow enough produce in their systems to sell at their own farm stand and in their very own community supported agriculture (CSA) program. The revenue from the farm sales helps to pay the individuals that work in the systems and help make the project more self-sustaining.

Individuals like Alexa are proving that the diverse community of individuals with developmental disabilities can not only be contributing members of society, but they can actually be a foundational part of our local food economy.Aquaponics takes most of the grunt work and high skill labor out of the equation meaning with proper supervision under a few guidelines anyone is capable of growing their own food.

intellectual and developmental disabilities - smart system at the arcWe are now working with the Arc to codify our processes and Day Support Option programming into a package that can scale to the Arc’s hundreds of nationwide locations. It is our hope that the Arc, and other organizations like it, can help their individuals find a meaningful place in their community as new farmers. Empowered by aquaponics, their contributions to the local food economy are highly valued and ever sought after in today’s reality of booming urban populations and aging farmers.

The Arc alone has nearly 700 chapters nationwide. A recent study estimates 4.6 million Americans have an intellectual or developmental disability and that very study admits their data collection methods did not account for every person with a developmental disability (Larson, 2000).

Equipped with aquaponics, this massive population is more than capable of providing sustainable food for their communities. Not only that, but boy do they love to do it too!


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