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Monday, December 2, 2019

The Abilities Connection TAC Growers

The Abilities Connection TAC Growers

Cultivating Hydroponics Skills & Feeding Communities

The Abilities Connection (TAC) creates opportunities for adults in our community with developmental disabilities. We have been providing vocational rehabilitation services in Springfield, Ohio since 1952.  There are currently over 250 individuals who are actively engaged with our programs. We employ, connect, and care for people with disabilities in community settings of their choice. This in turn is instrumental in creating self-confidence, promoting independence and assuring the dignity among that portion of our community.

This allows us to provide vocational rehabilitation to 40 individuals in food preparation and customer service during the first year of operation. 

TAC facility

Above: TAC has been providing rehabilitation services since 1952

Our dynamic embraces change – we are constantly seeking opportunities to provide fresh experiences to the folks working with us.  We were led to explore raising lettuce in an indoor hydroponic system.  We started with a Crop King 10-36 and a BlueLab Dosetronic controller using banks of conventional fluorescent lights.  With this system we successfully raised lettuce, kale and basil. The individuals engaged with the program were so enthusiastic that we looked a way to expand that operation.

TAC growers harvest

Above: Harvesting healthy greens

In 2010 we received a grant from the Springfield Foundation that allowed us to build a 3,000 square foot AgraTech greenhouse complete with an AmHydro NFT Crop Turn system.   This expanded our nurturing ability to support 2,880 grow sites at each phase of activity (propagation trays, nursery channels and finishing channels).  This gives us the capacity to harvest up to 100 pounds of leafy greens (Romaine, Batavian and Butterhead lettuce) daily. 

TAC grower hydroponics

Above: Reaping the rewards of hydroponic growing skills

Our customers have included local public and private schools, farmers markets, restaurants and produce brokers.  We plan to open an upscale salad bar in January where our workers-in-training will transform the produce into salad – a value added product.  This allows us to provide vocational rehabilitation to 40 individuals in food preparation and customer service during the first year of operation.  These workers will be trained to the same State standards as other workers in the industry – and certified as such!  This restaurant will provide another option for the public to access locally grown, sustainable, nutritious produce year round in the midst of a food desert (per the USDA map:  https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas.  Our restaurant will be in the COhatch development shown below:

The key to remember is that raising lettuce or creating salads isn’t our primary goal.  We are focused on providing fresh opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.   This is crucial because while the national unemployment rate is below 4% the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly 9% and in Ohio it is over 17%!  By providing increased vocational training opportunities to a larger number of the individuals we serve, more may master the skills needed to gain competitive, permanent employment in integrated settings in our community.

We don’t operate in a vacuum. Our community extends to similar organizations scattered across the country (among them WeGrow in Michigan, GreensDoGood in New Jersey and LettuceWorks in Missouri).  Together we’ve formed a coalition of organizations providing vocational rehabilitation for adults with developmental disabilities using hydroponic greenhouses – the Growing Opportunities Parntership.  Our goal is to share lessons learned unique to our circumstances, team together to better realize our individual goals and to pool our purchasing power to achieve economies of scale.

If you have questions about either TAC Farms or the Growing Opportunities Partnership please contact ldriever@tacind.com for additional information.  https://www.tacind.com/products/produce-tac-farms/

harvesting healthy hydroponic food

Above: Cultivating Crops & Skills

 

Special Thanks to Lou Driever for Article & Photos

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