The point of Project Grow is to create community for “adults of all mental diversities.” The methods used are farming and making art.diverse mental abilities, Project Grow, Port City Development Center

After I called up and scheduled a time to volunteer, I expected something like my experiences with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Boulder, Colorado. I would show up, and they would tell me what to do on a particular project. But that’s not how things work at Project Grow, where the goals are less quantifiable than reseeding 1 mile of forest road or replanting willows around a denuded wetland.

When I arrived Friday morning at 9, Emese (pronounced “Emaytia”) had forgotten I was coming, but she was very calm about it. She led me into a large art studio and turned me over to Tanya, who gave me a tour of the chicken coops. Then we went back for the Friday morning meeting. UnsureĀ  of what to do and feeling slightly guilty that I wasn’t already wrist-deep in dirt, I took a seat and listened to the meeting. Emese helped the farmers and artists set the agenda for the meeting, including everything from planning the day’s events (plant garlic, get coffee) to signing up for an offsite dance class to deciding what to include in their haunted house (Goth dancers were suggested). Tina C., who was sitting next to me and later took me to meet the four resident goats, explained that they could create the look of blood dripping down the walls with red balloons.

The meeting ended with an imitation of Ozzy Osbourne. It’s hard for me to express how happy I felt after this meeting. Every business meeting should encourage employees to set goals for the company and include a lot of spontaneous clapping.

living wage, artists and farmersAfterward, Tim, one of the farm managers, took me across the street to a garden and explained how to prepare a bed for planting. Then he went back to fetch some farmers. Angela, a volunteer who was back from university in New York for a weekend, joined me, and then farmers trickled in. Tanya prepared the garlic cloves, and Allie and others weeded. All the farmers (myself included) pretty much did their own thing with minimal direction from Tim and Angela.

When it was time for a break, I returned to the art studio with them, used the bathroom, and took some pictures. Project Grow, living wage, fair compensation, developmental disabilitiesThen I went back to weed the strawberry bed and rewarded myself with a purple tomato. When I was finished I said good-bye to Tim and Emese, met some other people, and ended my morning with a visit to the goats. They appreciated my banana peel and the dandelions Tina C. told me to feed them, and I discovered that goat noses are very soft.

I took lots of photos of Project Grow (and added detailed captions), which you will find on Flickr.



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