Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You're amazing!

Admiring long beans at the Accessible Garden.
August 24, 2010.
It means a lot to me that you've been the earliest viewers to this blog. Thanks for your amazing support and enthusiasm so far - what a gift each and all of you are! Keep your comments, suggestions, and ideas coming. It's great to feel this kind of connection across the world with family and friends from Malaysia, new friends from Ohio, old friends from California and Chicago, and dear ones from around this happy valley in western Massachusetts. Thanks for your understanding as I find my way through the ins and outs of creating and writing this blog, and seeing what works and what doesn't doesn't work so well.... Love, Theresa

My Intention for this blog is to ...

  • share with you some stories of how Karen Romanowski of Brookfield Farm and I came to work together with others in the community to build this garden and how our accessible garden came to be.
  • share some thoughts on the value of accessible gardens and other recreational spaces in a community that are accessible to all people, including a simple introduction to the concept of Universal Design.
  • talk about why gardening is an activity that can be shared by all and brings gifts to all.
  • invite you to participate with your ideas, thoughts and questions.
  • and yes – hopefully provide you with some information, including an Accessible Garden RESOURCE LIST for accessible gardening tools,  books and articles on accessible gardening, links to other accessible gardens, and other information that may be helpful to you or others about how to build your own accessible garden in your community. 

Karen speaking at opening of the Accessible Garden 

Accessible Gardens make gardening easier for all

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WELCOME to ACCESSIBLE GARDENS FOR ALL -- Building community gardens that are accessible to all people

Patricia and her longtime caregiver, Sharon, 
at the Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm, Amherst, MA.
   It started with a simple need and a desire -- to be able to go together to the farm with our daughter, Patricia, and for her to have the opportunity to explore the farm as other children did. 
Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, is a truly lovely place and is beloved by many in the community (I'll talk more about Brookfield Farm in a later post). It is a Community Supported Agriculture farm that our family was eager to join when we first moved to Amherst. But it was, as most farms are, largely inaccessible to someone who uses a wheelchair or has any physical or mobility impairment.
    I'm Theresa Vincent, mother of Patricia, who was the inspiration for The Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm. I am not here with any professional expertise in gardening or accessible design and planning. I’m a parent, and a member of a local community, and I’m here because I want to join with others who are interested in making our communities more accessible and welcoming for our children with disabilities, our families, and for all.
Theresa & Patricia, FCSN Conference, Boston, MA. Feb. 2005
   The last twenty one years of my life were largely defined as the mother of Patricia – the one with the bright smile and a mass of dark brown curls that we all envied! She had one of the strongest and most resilient spirits that I have ever known, with a capacity to reach people and change their lives just by her being and what she called forth in others.
    She was born with cerebral palsy and a long list of what I call –“the words you learn to live with” –  dysgenesis of the corpus callossum, grand mal and petit mal seizures, spastic quadriplegia, blindness, deafness, scoliosis, risk of aspiration, etc. But Patricia taught us, and we learned that this list alone would not define her.
Patricia and family enjoying the beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. P is using a beach wheelchair that was free for public use at the beach. Thanks, Rhode Island!
    I could tell you stories of how she thoroughly enjoyed going to the movies and how she loved her friend Jenny and how Jenny loved her. Or I could tell you of when her Dad first had the idea of taking her skiing and my response to him was -- are you out of your mind??? But go skiing, she did -- for two winters! And I can tell you of how it made her so happy to go sailing every summer for the last four years on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, and also about how she cared for others by raising money to buy Christmas presents for children with multiple disabilities in the foster care system. So many other stories . . .  Perhaps it would also be a story about a smile, or the soft touch of her fingers in my hand, or that particular expression on her face that only your child has.
    Patricia passed away in 2008. I would give anything for her to be here, showing you the accessible garden that she helped build. But perhaps she is in a way… What I do know is that we want to continue what she helped create -- that this small, simple garden that was built not only  in response to her needs, but in the spirit of what she opened our eyes to – that a world that was open and welcoming to all is a world that benefits each and all of us. This idea, in the form of a garden for everyone is something that we would like to see grow and bloom in as many places as possible…
Community gathering for opening of the Accessible Garden

"Accessible Gardens" workshop presented at NOFA Summer Conference Aug. 2010

This weekend, Karen Romanowski, of Brookfield Farm, Amherst, and I presented our workshop "A Garden for All: Building Community Gardens that are Accessible to All People" at the annual NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Summer Conference 2010 held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Massahusetts. There were over 200 workshops at this year's conference. It was a truly rewarding experience to offer this workshop and to see how deeply interested the participants were in making their communities more accessible.
We created this workshop to share with others the way in which one person -- Patricia -- helped to create a space that welcomes all to share in the gifts that gardening offers. We hope to keep that inspiration alive and keep sharing her gift to us by presenting at other conferences and to organizations, groups, schools, nursing homes, veterans homes, hospitals, and cities and towns. 
Earlier this year, we also presented at the Federation for Children with Special Needs "Visions of Community 2010" conference in Boston, Massachusetts. 

A Garden for All – Building a Community Garden that is Accessible to All People 
Presenter: Theresa Vincent, Parent, & Karen Romanowski, RN, Co-owner, Brookfield Farm, Amherst. 
How a family’s wish for meaningful access into the community for their daughter with multiple disabilities spurred a local farm to build an accessible garden that would be open to all people. Utilize ideas from this small-scale project, brainstorm creative solutions to problems of access, and be inspired to envision and create simple accessible gardens and recreational spaces in your own local communities.