Healthy You Healthy Hennepin

Josiah working in the garden

Useful Learning

September 2016

Four years ago Josiah was in a rough place – in transition between two homes.

That’s when Nathan Fryett, a team supervisor at Chrestomathy, Inc., met him.

“I was completely won over,” says Fryett, explaining that 27-year-old Josiah loves to take ownership of a project and gets “a real sense of accomplishment” when it’s complete.

Chrestomathy is a day training and habilitation program for adults with intellectual disabilities and challenging behavior, and today Josiah spends five days a week there – tackling projects that equip him with life skills. (Appropriately, “Chrestomathy” comes from two Greek derivatives -- "chrestos" and “mathein” – which mean “useful” and “to learn.”)

One of Josiah’s favorite “useful learning” projects is horticulture therapy and training.

People with intellectual and/or development disabilities lag behind the general population in healthy eating, physical activity, and other health metrics.

73

Percent of the

IDD population

with a body mass

index of 25 or

greater

The project began in 2015, when Hennepin County Public Health won a grant from UCare to help local organizations that support adults with intellectual and/or development disabilities (IDD) enhance their client’s eating habits and physical activity.

With the funds, Hennepin County Public Health launched a horticulture therapy and training project with Chrestomathy.

The work is important, because people with intellectual and/or development disabilities lag behind the general population in healthy eating, physical activity, and other health metrics.

For instance, 73 percent of the IDD population has a body mass index of 25 or greater (overweight or obese), compared to 53 percent of the general population. In addition, 70 percent of the IDD population do not consume five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, compared to 63 percent of the general population. And 38 percent of the IDD population engages in no leisure time activity, compared to 11 percent of the general population.

One of the most troubling disparities is chronic disease. Seventy-four percent of the IDD population has at least one of the following chronic diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or high cholesterol – compared to 40 percent of the general population.

A Chrestomathy client prepares a meal
Josiah boils water
Vegetables from Chrestomathy's garden

70

Percent of the IDD

population who do

not consume five

servings of fruits

and vegetables

per day

Before the horticulture therapy and training project began, Chrestomathy had several raised garden beds behind its headquarters in Minneapolis’ Bryant neighborhood. However, because staff lacked gardening knowledge, the beds weren’t producing much. “We had sporadic success,” says Joe Fuemmeler, Chrestomathy’s program director. “We were just cobbling together the little gardening we may have done personally.”

But the grant enabled Hennepin County Public Health to hire gardeners from A Backyard Farm to teach Chrestomathy staff and clients the proper way to lay out a plot and care for plants.

With that help, Chrestomathy had its first serious garden production in 2015.

A Chrestomathy client tastes fresh produce from the garden
Josiah cooks vegetables on the stovetop
A Chrestomathy clients uses a salad spinner

38

Percent of the IDD

population who

engages in no

leisure time

activity

Each week, after they garden, Chrestomathy clients create meals from the produce they’ve harvested. The Seward Community Co-op – Friendship store allows Chrestomathy to use its kitchen for some of the cooking.

The project’s format is appealing and accessible.

“Seeing a fresh strawberry grow is something that everyone loves,” says Fuemmeler. He notes that blind and deaf clients participate in the project, too, as well as a woman with no teeth (she’s able to eat soft foods like ripe strawberries and pureed recipes, like pesto or salsa).

Before the initiative, a pre-packaged, processed diet was “the norm” for many clients, says Fuemmeler. Now people regularly consume garden-grown cucumber, onion, tomato, zucchini, and kale.

The initiative also helps clients develop vocational skills.

For instance, the tasks that Josiah performs in the garden and kitchen – like handwashing, checking to see if water has boiled, and cutting produce into small pieces – is teaching him focus, attention-to-detail, and professionalism.

Nathan Fryett says that after Josiah bulks up these skills, they will help him find a job cleaning a hotel or an automotive store.  

Another client in the project learned to prep produce for recipe demos. He used these skills to get a job in a grocery store.

Blind and deaf clients participate in the project, too, as well as a woman with no teeth (she’s able to eat soft foods like ripe strawberries and pureed recipes, like pesto or salsa).

74

Percent of the IDD

population who

has at least one

of the following:

diabetes,

cardiovascular

disease,

hypertension or

high cholesterol

In both 2015 and 2016, 50 to 60 people participated in the project.

Chrestomathy staff were so excited by their client’s enthusiasm, that they created a garden cookbook so that the impact of the project would be shared with their clients’ housemates. (Most clients live in group homes with other adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.)

The UCare grant expired in 2015. In 2016, the project was funded by Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program. Chrestomathy is looking for ongoing funding sources to continue and expand the project in 2017.

 

Written by: Lori Imsdahl

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