Farmbot & The Benefits of The Generous Garden
The Generous Garden is part of an innovative nonprofit called Thrive Upstate, which aims to assist people with significant intellectual and physical disabilities in a meaningful activity that will produce income for themselves as well as facilitate community integration with normally developing neighbours.
The Generous Garden provides horticultural therapy for individuals who work in the garden, enjoy the produce and plants they grow, and sell produce at local farmers markets. The program thrives by “getting them active, practising fine motor skills, exposing them to different experiences, and getting them in the sunlight,” says Thomas Leonard, garden manager.
Thrive Upstate’s greenhouses are specially designed for accessibility, including wide, paved walkways for wheelchairs. “Folks often don’t have the upper body dexterity or ability to garden” in a traditional sense, says Craig Byrd, Director of Development and Marketing at Thrive Upstate. They needed an accessible way to grow food when you have physical limitations that would prevent many from “getting on their knees and weeding a garden bed.”
Accessibility through FarmBot
3D printers move their arms up, down, and around an area to create a precise product. Using the same technology, FarmBot is a machine that can be programmed to move its arm within a plot of soil to plant and cultivate fruits, vegetables, and other plants. FarmBot is easy to use with a smart drag-and-drop interface that knows how to best take care of any plant throughout its entire life. You can also move FarmBot and operate its tools in real-time with the manual controls.
“I like to plant stuff like crunchy veggies that taste good, like carrots.” -The Generous Garden participant, Michelle.
Rory, the inventor of the FarmBot came to Thrive Upstate to show participants how to use the machine. He explained basic farming principles before showing them the machine and helping them plant seeds in the ground. Rory asked participant Jon-Jon what they should plant, and he lit up, saying, “Maybe some tomatoes!” They walked over to pick out the seeds and plant them. “Let’s go get some tomatoes!” Jon-Jon said. One resident named Billy was delighted that Rory could spell out a B for Billy in the soil with the FarmBot’s watering tool.
“I really look at this whole system as providing a level of independence and self-autonomy for these folks,” says Leonard. Those served by the program plant the plants, see them grow and see something that they have done from their hands come from the ground.
This supportive working environment helps individuals increase their knowledge of gardening, soils, plant life cycles, harvest techniques, sales methods, and customer service. The program also creates local fresh food for their residential housing and surrounding community.