Along with providing fresh produce to the community, Aquatic Greens Farm in Bryan helps support individuals with special needs working on the farm.
Sharon Wells established Aquatic Greens Farm in 2013, and with her program over the past two years has been hiring and training adults with special needs to help run the farm. However, due to the winter storm on the week of Feb. 14, the workers have undergone setbacks and created a GoFundMe to help repair damages.
At Aquatic Greens Farm, Wells said they specifically use aquaculture to grow a variety of produce.
“The farm is an aquaponics farm, [and] aquaponics is the use of aquaculture. We use fish in order to provide the nutrients for the plants,” Wells said. “We grow different types of greens: lettuces, celery, kale [and] chard … There’s also two commercial kitchens at the farm, where I have a variety of different tenants who use it.”
Muriel Mathieu, owner of Muriel’s GF Bakery and tenant on the farm, said she opened up her kitchen to also train adults with special needs.
“Sometimes it’s not easy, but they have another perspective of life, and the things that could be boring for you, it’s always enjoyable for them,” Mathieu said. “We try to build the community … and I’m happy to participate and to do something.”
Chris Chancellor, orientation and mobility specialist at Bryan Independent School District, said one of his students works at Aquatic Greens Farm as part of the school district’s 18 PLUSS program.
“I’m there two days a week to observe him and work with him on some of the different areas in the environment,” Chancellor said. “They have the ability and the opportunity to learn so much in any area that has to do with a small business, with a small bakery [and] with a small outdoor greenhouse facility.”
Wells said she has been teaching the students to work independently and take charge of the tasks on the farm.
“They do everything from filling the cups to planting seeds and transferring to the rafts, then harvesting. Since January, we’re starting to train them to sell and then how to work with customers,” Wells said. “Basically, they do everything on the farm. They’re even trained now to even do the cleaning in the building because we’re having consumers come in.”
However, after the unexpected snow storm, the employees now face obstacles disrupting the progress they have made on the farm.
“Because we lost electricity, one of the systems, the pump froze up and some of the pipes broke,” Wells said. “Most of our large produce that was in the second system died, so we’re having to replant, and then, I lost probably about 70 to 100 pounds of telopea that were in the tank that we had heaters in.”
Through the GoFundMe, Chancellor said he believes people in the Bryan-College Station community have a good opportunity to provide support.
“Hopefully the community will embrace this,” Chancellor said. “Who knows how much it’ll go or what we’ll get out of this, but the people always say, ‘We want to do so much more.’ This is a good opportunity to do that … They can go to the [Brazos Valley] Farmer’s Market on any Friday from 10 [a.m] to 2 [p.m.] to check it out themselves to see these great young adults.”
Despite the challenges, Wells said she appreciates how committed the workers have remained to the farm.
“When they came out the following week to help, their attitudes have been really good about getting rid of all the dead produce and starting all over again,” Wells said. “People tell me all the time that I must have a lot of patience in order to work with them, but the truth is that I probably learn more from them than they do from me.”