The Jen Organic Garden Program was implemented in the spring of 2008 beginning with a few small beds of vegetables. By the spring of 2009, the organic garden grew to twenty 10′ x 10′ garden boxes the students built themselves in an area behind the school. The spring of 2016 the garden will have grown to over thirty garden boxes and will be utilizing starter plants grown in our very own Greenhouse. Each year the staff and students map out the garden; shop for seeds, plants, tools and fertilizer; turn over the soil; plant the vegetables, herbs, and fruit; fertilize, weed, and water the garden; harvest; and eat and sell the fresh produce. In addition to planting over twenty vegetables and herbs in the garden boxes, the 2016 garden will include grapevines, various berries, and a small orchard of fruit trees including apple, pear, cherry, and plum.
The goals of the Organic Garden Program include teaching adolescents with intellectual disabilities and mental illness about nutrition, science, and math; helping them learn basic life skills; developing their social skills; providing them with vocational training and employment opportunities; and instilling a life-long love of gardening. The students learn to work as a team and, through gardening, they strengthen their communication, problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building skills. The Organic Garden Program has been very therapeutic for our special needs students, helping to keep them calm, relaxed, and in control of their emotions and behaviors. Working in the garden has also developed and sharpened their job skills – essential skills needed to get and keep a job and to attain as much self-sufficiency as possible. The Maryville Jen School Organic Garden Program has positively impacted students with intellectual and learning disabilities and helped them maximize their academic and vocational success.