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Growing partnership: Spurwink school joins Lincoln Community Garden

LINCOLN – The Spurwink School, a year-round special education program at 365 River Road in Lincoln, is a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Community Garden. For the first time ever, the two groups have established a partnership.

When Tom Rossi posted a call for new gardeners on Facebook, it came to the attention of Mary Anne Maciel, director of employment/community services for Spurwink Rhode Island.

“I’d never known what the building was,” Rossi said, despite Spurwink School being a few hundred feet away from the community garden he helps run. “... only that it was some kind of school.”

Spurwink’s administrative offices are based in Cranston, but as a community-based program serving children and adults with disabilities, Maciel said, “we’re pretty much everywhere.”

There’s the school on River Road, as well as an adult residential program on Cobble Hill Road, and a life skills center in Cranston serving adults with disabilities over age 21.

Maciel, who oversees Spurwink’s employment training/job placement program VocLinks, said they strive to offer opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities via community inclusion and person-centered planning. In short, they’re always looking for new ways to connect with the community and encourage the freedom of choice.

“People get to decide whether or not they want to partake in certain programs,” she said.

Staff members like Valerie Rankin, an employment specialist/direct support professional, work “in all environments” with Spurwink’s community members, resulting in “really good job members.” The rest of their schedule is filled with activities like visiting the garden.

“Our goal was to really get into the community. When Val saw this opportunity, I said ‘Let’s go for it,’” Maciel said.

When they offered a chance to visit the Lincoln Community Garden, roughly a dozen people signed up. Rossi, who reserved a plot for Spurwink, said they “went to the head of the line.”

Unfortunately, the open plot was one of the worst in the garden, having been left abandoned by its former gardener. Rossi and other volunteers helped to weed and till the garden, and Spurwink took over. “What they did over there blew my mind,” he said. “Our worst plot became our best plot. I was amazed … they’ve really been marvelous.”

The Spurwink gardeners started by visiting a local nursery, where they went on a scavenger hunt for their favorite vegetables.

“This summer, I grew Portuguese peppers and broccoli,” said Jordan Andrews, one of the gardeners. Jessica Bullock also chose to grow broccoli, resulting in eight massive plants.

Kevin Dexter grew a bounty of banana peppers and Italian sweet peppers. Ben Patch wanted to grow cauliflower, but they ended up with Brussels sprouts by accident. He was OK with the change.

Audra Johnson helped make signs to label the crops.

They also grew red and golden cherry tomatoes, asparagus beans, squash, basil, morning glories and sunflowers. They said their secret to a bountiful garden is using banana water – banana peels soaked in a jar of water and sprinkled over the plants.

On a typical week, they’re working the garden on Mondays and Thursdays, helping to water, weed and harvest. They’re planning to hold a cookout at the garden in the coming weeks, where they’ll share some of what they’ve grown so far.

When Rossi polled the group to see whether they’re interested in returning to the garden next year, Dexter answered for his friends with a resounding “Yes,” adding, “We’ll come every year.”

“It’s been a great partnership,” Maciel said during a visit to the garden last week.

Asked whether they’re ready for a bigger plot, Dexter motioned to the garden and surrounding fields and said, “We want this whole thing.” “You’ll need a tractor,” Rossi said. Dexter volunteered to drive.

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