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Lady Docs Field trip to OASIS

written by Marsha Seidelman, M.D.
on Saturday, 24th August ,2019

Always up for a day out in nature, Lady Docs gathered at OASIS farm in Gaithersburg, MD this weekend to plant and harvest over 150 pounds of produce. OASIS (Organization for Advancement of Services for Individuals with Special needs) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with special needs. It is an amazing project of Dr. Chitra Rajagopal and her husband Raj, conceived after Chitra heard a story on NPR that piqued her interest. Several years ago, parents of an autistic child in the Midwest developed a farm that included a covered greenhouse, where vegetables could be grown year-round. This provided opportunities for autistic individuals to work and gain satisfaction.

In the summer of 2016, after searching for land that met their needs, Raj and Chitra purchased the 14 acre Gaithersburg farm. They credit the Montgomery County Master Gardeners for helping them get off the ground, since, “We had absolutely no idea what to do with this land.” This is despite the fact that they have so many flowers, herbs and veggies growing at home, they would seem like natural gardeners. But the land had not been cultivated for nearly 8 years at the time, and they needed help.

The Master Gardeners started planting in the area that we harvested this past weekend. In addition, Janey with Urban Greens in DC (which helped establish a community gardens project in DC) planted over a dozen beds for growing sweet potatoes. Once these plots were established, Raj and Chitra continued to grow their dream by expanding into other parts of their 14 acres.

The Oasis farm also had assistance from another mom of an autistic child, who helped with grants and other farm programs. Another mom works there three mornings a week on projects. 

The parents involved in these projects were inspired by farming as an activity with a wide scope of tasks that provide a rich variety of opportunities for vocational training. Funding for many programs for differently abled adults is unreliable. OASIS farm is a potentially sustainable, longterm solution to enhance the quality of life through social interactions, exposure to beautiful surroundings, and job training.

The OASIS farm has developed into a remarkable project. Two acres are devoted to projects for the autistic adults; parts of the other 12 acres are producing crops that are distributed to So Others May Eat, Manna, DC Central Kitchen, and other organizations that feed the homeless. On Sunday morning, we harvested over 150 pounds of produce! And prepared many more seeds and plants for future crops. The remainder of the 12 acres will be planted eventually, but it is labor intensive and it takes time. Students can get Service Learning credit for high school when they volunteer.

Some of the differently abled adults come to the farm every day, sometimes to plant. At other times, there is art work or woodworking going on. Some groups, like Upper Country Resources do enrichment programs there one Sunday a month. The beautiful thing about the farm, is it is out in nature, and it is open and available to all.

In addition to producing food, the farm has a paper shredding contract. The excess shred can be used for composting, and has been the impetus for producing papercrete garden pottery, fire starter bricks, seedling cups, and more. These are all clever projects that are meaningful to the participants, make use of otherwise wasted material, and raise money for the farm, which in turn donates food to the homeless.

It’s a wonderful circle of goodness. Thanks to Raj and Chitra for sharing it with us and all who benefit from it. To read more about the farm and the organization, check out their website. Check out our bounty below!  And look for recipes made with our fresh produce to follow ;-)

Tags: farming, gleaning

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