An employment training program that puts adults with disabilities to work in the urban agriculture and hospitality sector is looking for a new set of participants.
The Orchard program, led by Hutton House, helps people land a 12-week paid placement with employers in the sector. They take part in three weeks of in-class sessions where they upgrade their job skills in order to find long-term employment.
Workers learn everything from resume building, transportation training, workplace etiquette, and computer skills among others. They also get hands-on lessons about food security and how to grow food in the program funded by Service Canada.
“We’re helping rebuild our economy and strengthening the workforce, but this also helps people learn about their own food journey,” said Joe Gansevles, who is spearheading the pilot program.
Robert Barber is three weeks into his placement at Reforest London where he helps organize various plants and trees along with preparing them to be delivered to different gardens. The job gives the 42-year-old with a learning disability a sense of independence and pride.
“I love enjoying the fresh air and it helps me get out of the apartment, talk to people and make friends but most importantly it allows me to work in a really good atmosphere,” Barber said.
WATCH: How Orchard allows Robert Barber to feel a sense of accomplishment:
Barriers to stable employment
Barber admits it’s been difficult to find a stable job because employers often tend to overlook people who have disabilities. He believes it’s because of stereotypes that they’re less competent than other workers, Barber said.
“Lots of people have disabilities and you can’t blame everything on that,” he said. “People with disabilities can do this kind of work. Yes, it may take them a little longer but it doesn’t matter because they still have abilities to make it through everyday life and that’s how we learn.”
Barber said he’s had experiences where employers have passed on giving him job opportunities because it takes him longer to process new information, but he doesn’t let that weigh him down.
“It’s hard but I can manage. I can’t let that bother me so I just have to move on and work to the best knowledge I have,” he added.
One of the biggest barriers to employment Gansevles has noticed is the anxiety of going into the workforce after the pandemic, adding that it’s really a matter of building confidence and some more skills.
Agriculture a ‘transferable skill’
Urban agriculture allows people to learn about their personal food security journey and also teaches them skills that can be transferred into all types of workplaces from the manufacturing sector to working in an office, Gansevles said.
“What we’re really doing is we’re going back to how a lot of people’s parents and grandparents learned to work and that was on a farm, so that was learning to be able to start something and finish it, learn repetition, and learn to care for something,” he said.
“With inflation, the cost of healthy food has risen significantly and so the benefit is that participants are learning how to grow their own healthy food.”
Gansevles said he wants this program to help people develop a new career journey and move out of food insecurity.
Orchard found placements for all four participants from an earlier session. This new cohort, set to start on Sept 18, has seven participants with room for more.