Love, joy, passion.
These are words supporters use to describe Green Machine, a group of developmentally disabled adults who work at the Fairfield County Opportunity Center, growing many types of vegetables—everything from tomatoes to potatoes as well as a variety of microgreens.
“If people will come out and spend 30 minutes here, they are coming back because it just has an atmosphere. These are jobs, yes, and they may pull a paycheck, but these are special people,” said Fairfield County Farm Bureau member Hart Van Horn, an advocate of community garden projects.
The idea came from Deborah Will, a life coach at the Opportunity Center, after a packaging job for some of the adults at the center ended.
“Our supervisors asked us what our passion was, and I like playing in the dirt,” Will said.
Will was tasked to create something to enhance the center’s services and inventive enough to attract other partners. The result was Green Machine.
The project has grown over the years through collaboration with Fairfield County Farm Bureau and Fairfield County Master Gardeners.
Van Horn and the late Roger Wolfe, a fellow Farm Bureau member, had been doing outreach with another community garden, but interest was waning. They focused their efforts on helping Green Machine expand, initially building small plots and later tilling up more land for planting.
The garden has gone from about 1,500 square feet to more than 7,000 square feet and now includes a farmers market. A special facility is used for growing microgreens, and participants craft hypertufa planters, a type of pot made from natural materials.
“We’re just community spirited about it, you know. That is really all that it amounts to,” Van Horn said.
More help was needed to teach Green Machine members hands-on gardening skills. Three years ago, Fairfield County Master Gardeners got involved and are now an integral part of the effort.
“It’s a very heartwarming project,” said Jackie Marion, a master gardener and Green Machine volunteer.
Ultimately, the project’s goals are to teach useful skills such as customer service and to connect the community to the Opportunity Center.
“We finally just decided that the best way to do that was to have the market here,” Marion said.
Launched in the summer of 2013, the market operates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the growing season at the Opportunity Center in Carroll.
While the Master Gardeners are now leading day-to-day volunteer and teaching efforts with Will, Van Horn and the county Farm Bureau have continued to be involved in other ways. They provided funding for a new irrigation system that eliminated the need to run hoses from nearby buildings.
“This is a small community and a lot of people have stepped up and helped do things here and that is really terrific,” Marion said.
It’s that community support that has led to the continued growth of all Green Machine operations, with the market seeing more regular customers.
“We have a widower who came the first week and comes back every week just to buy something from us,” Will said. “He doesn’t care what it is just so long as he buys something from us. It’s really the conversations and visiting with the men and women here that keeps them coming back.”
The group also sells produce and microgreens to local restaurants including Shaw’s Restaurant in Lancaster, Rhaphsody in Nelsonville and Village Wines and Bistro in Canal Winchester.
Other projects include seed bombs, balls of clay packed with seeds that dissolve into flower gardens. There are also plans to use a plastic covered hoop structure for winter gardening.
With its growth, Green Machine is relying on what has always been its sustaining force.
“You can’t out give the folks working here,” Will said. “The more we give them, the more they give back.”