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Stories of Excellence

Act Clients Trade Farm Labor For Vegetables

Five ACT Program clients in Brunswick trade their labor on a Wiscasset organic farm for shares of the vegetables they grow. One client, Jason S., shows up to garden every Friday afternoon, rain or shine. The others come when their lives and their mental illness allow them to participate, said Alan McKelvy, a Sweetser vocational specialist.

A few years ago, McKelvy bought the first 'share' of garden produce from his neighbor, Craig Collins, who owns a Maine Community-Supported Agricultural (CSA) Farm. A former social worker, Collins got to know McKelvy and his work at Sweetser, and decided to combine gardening with public service. "It's the best way to affect change with clients," he said of vegetable farming.

To help Sweetser clients learn marketable skills, Collins plowed a 160' x 30' garden plot at his "Two Sisters Farm" in Woolwich and taught Sweetser clients how to plant, tend and harvest.

According to clinical supervisor Rita LaBarbera, gardening teaches skills such as timelines, trust, commitment, following instructions, initiating ideas and follow through. The new gardeners plan to sell extra vegetables to Sweetser employees.

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