Education, Volunteerism, and Fresh Produce: Tyler's Job at Hillandale Farm

By Sara Porcaro | May 4, 2021
Organic, Farming, Rhode Island, Disabilities, Volunteerism, Education, Community, Home Based Therapeutic Services

It's a cloudy day in Westerly, Rhode Island, where stretches of grassy farmland are just waking up to the start of the growing season. Tucked away from the main roads is one of the many local farms that supply the fresh produce and other products we enjoy in the meals served at our local restaurants: the Hillandale Farm Organic Growers. The rain drizzles over chicken coops and greenhouses full of fresh spinach, and dedicated employees work to turn compost, care for chickens, and show volunteers and interns how to care for the farmlands to ensure a wonderful harvest. One farmhand, Tyler, started as one such volunteer--but thanks to his incredible work ethic and his determination, he's recently achieved part-time employment with the Ayers Foundation, and he loves every moment spent on the farm!
A kind, curious, and determined person, Tyler is a lover of the great outdoors, enjoying all manners of activities with his father Dave, his uncle, and his grandfather, who has a garden that Tyler enjoys helping tend to. Since Tyler was three years old, he has received supports with Perspectives' Youth and Family Services, specifically in their Home Based Treatment Services (HBTS) program. These services are designed to support individuals with disabilities in developing the skills they need to live full and independent lives--and over the years, Tyler has worked hard to do just that, especially in his daily living, social, and communication skills. Now, with a volunteer position turned part-time employment at Hillandale Farm, he's learning new skills, earning money to save for the future, and making fantastic connections with local farmers like Hillandale owners Max and Uli, all while doing work he loves.
"There's nothing I don't love about working here; I don't have a favorite," says Tyler. "I think I do my job well, and everyone here is really helpful when I have questions, too."
Max agrees: "We've had a wonderful experience with Tyler," he says. "He's very enthusiastic and always willing to try new things. Since we met him, he's grown leaps and bounds in his confidence and independence, and it's great to see him have fun here. We're glad to have him with us."
"We've had a wonderful experience with Tyler. Since we met him, he's grown leaps and bounds in his confidence and independence, and it's great to see him have fun here."
With a quiet, peaceful atmosphere like the farm has and all the plants and chickens to care for, it's a place that inspires a sense of joy and satisfaction to the volunteers that come to work and learn about farm life. In fact, Max and Uli (who is certified in Special Education) also began the Ayers Foundation, a not-for-profit program named after Max's great grandfather, who originally ran a dairy farm on the lands from 1901 to 1956. Max and Uli are always finding new ways to teach children and adults of all abilities about how the fruits and vegetables we buy or enjoy in restaurants find their way to our tables. Their focus--on reducing global pollution, saving energy, and promoting healthy living--all lead to "food-making and farm-related opportunities," such as growing food, cooking, livestock care, and more.
To do all of this, they also work with local farms to use them as "living classrooms" where interested learners can see for themselves how food products come about, while also working to support local and sustainable community farming. Through summer programs and hands-on work experience, volunteers and participants learn practical knowledge and skills that can apply to all areas of life. Tyler himself, while he loves his work on the farm, dreams of one day being a police officer--and the confidence he's gained to ask questions, investigate problems, and solve them with the tools and knowledge available, will certainly help him in the future.
"It's been incredible seeing Tyler grow since working on the farm," says his father Dave. "Before, it was easy for him to lose confidence in himself if he wasn't sure about how to do something, but since working here, he's been able to improve that, and he wants to be more independent now as a result. He's doing things for himself more now, and he's got more things to talk about with his family. It's definitely an ideal first job for someone his age, out on the farm."
In fact, he's also been rising to the challenge to perform his work tasks independently, staying focused and attentive when farm employees show him how to fill sinkholes that appear in the greenhouses or how to mix old plant material into new compost soil. Behavior Specialist Lydia, who works alongside Tyler and grew up on her parents' farm herself, is thrilled to see Tyler not only learn his duties so well, but to truly own them and do them entirely on his own, all while checking in with other employees to make sure he's completing his tasks efficiently and correctly.
"It's been incredible seeing how hard he works," says Lydia, "and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do something this special with him, working on an organic farm like this one. It's been a great learning experience all around, and Tyler's doing so well here."
Clinical Supervisor Karen Nault adds, "Seeing Tyler make connections and apply his learning to real life situations has been fantastic. It's been a win-win situation for both Hillandale Farm and for Tyler, since everyone works so well together and Tyler's learned so much."
As summer edges closer, Tyler's also looking forward to being able to work more hours on the farm with everyone and to watch the harvest season develop. He's proud to earn his own money and save it for things like his own car, and he's continuing to do well in school, too, as he continues on the track to graduation. With such a supportive crew to work with, and such a great place to learn new skills for all the things he wants to do in the future while giving back to his community, Karen's right--it's definitely a win-win for all. We're grateful to our local farmers like Max and Uli for their work in bringing our communities quality food--and we're excited for Tyler as he looks towards the future on the farm!


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