Our bee program is growing thanks to community support and hard work from our volunteers and students. This spring we put in three new honey bee hives to replace the two that did not make it through the winter and moved our apiary to a new permanent location at the top of our farm field hill.
With guidance from Beekeeper Bob, our students on the autism spectrum have done a fantastic job working our bees this season - favorite tasks include lighting and using the smoker to keep the bees calm; pulling out frames to look at the bee brood (baby bees in their comb nursery cells), bees, pollen and honey; and feeding the bees with pollen patties and sugar water.
Two hives got off to a really good start this spring and are going very strong, but unfortunately the third hive did not accept its queen. We had to put a new queen in the hive and that time the hive took off. Now, the queen is laying eggs to make new bees and they are starting to make honey thanks in part to a few frames of brood (baby bees in comb cells) from our other two strong hives.
Our two strong hives are doing great and making LOTS of honey - this is terrific for a first year hive, especially. We harvested 90 pounds of honey with our students this week and left some in the hives to keep the bees strong for the fall and winter.
We have been checking the bees each month for varroa mites, which can cause hive death over the winter. In August we did find the mite levels were above 3% in two hives, so after we off honey we put medication those hives to control the mites (formic acid patties).
Stay tuned and look for our honey at our Friday Student Farm Stands this fall.
Thank you to Whole Kids Foundation and The Bee Cause Project for a generous grant to support our 2022 bee program with our kids on the autism spectrum, and to Conrad Hive and Honey and the Doran Family for donating equipment. Our biggest thanks, as always, to our own Beekeeper Bob Hooker who makes our bee program possible!
As Learning 4 Life Farm grows, autistic students already blooming
Dave Weidig, Newark Advocate, July 28, 2022; Columbus Dispatch Sunday, August 14, 2022
JOHNSTOWN — The alpacas are coming! The alpacas are coming!
The Learning 4 Life Farm, located at The Learning Spectrum (TLS) North East education center near Johnstown, is steadily building to full completion after two years. And getting the therapy animals next January means the seven-acre facility, also featuring gardens, is one step closer to providing job training for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.
"The alpacas are easier to take care of, and they're good for therapeutic training and therapy," Learning 4 Life Farm director of operations Amy Hurst said during last year's barn raising event. "The kids really like the animals, and they've been making trips to nearby alpaca farms."
"Once we get the alpacas, we want to bring in students from other local school districts," Hurst said last week during a summer open house which updated the community on progress. "We just got an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) grant from USDA for the well, pollinator habitat strip, composting facility for (alpaca) manure, and access driveway out to the barn."
The 36x80 foot barn, which will house alpacas on one side and a work space/gift shop on the other, was raised in October. During the winter and spring, electricity, the septic system, roof and plumbing were put in. The last steps are a concrete floor, drilling a well and finishing the interior, which will include a walk-in cooler and HVAC.
Phase 3, the final one for the project, costs $137,871, and also includes five acres of three fenced pastures for the alpacas and a 1.5-acre organic garden for cut flowers, herbs, vegetables and a pumpkin patch. The community has been extremely supportive of the venture overall. Of the $193,765 in expenses to date, $62,222 has come from individuals, $52,372 from businesses and $22,621 from donated materials and services. The rest has been provided by grants and TLS sponsorship.
"The Jeff Robinson family sold a vintage Porsche and donated the money to us, which paid for our septic system," Hurst said. "That was amazing, very generous, and numerous other foundations and sponsors have chipped in."
A hoop house has been built for growing flowers and vegetables the year around, and is USDA-equipped with raised beds.
Phase 1 of the project, completed in fall of 2020, was funded with $25,000 in donations from community members and includes the driveway, elevated barn pad, drainage and bio retention rain garden. A fruit, vegetable, herb and flower garden is taken care of by high school, middle school and younger students and has been expanded to 2,500 square feet. Two beehives were also added to the property.
During last week's open house, flowers, vegetables and herbs were for sale that were grown by the students. They have strengthened their job and life skills by watering, weeding and harvesting vegetables, cutting and and arranging flowers, building the raised garden beds in the hoop house, and learning beekeeping.
"They have all independently thrived and developed their skills," said TLS North East high school teacher Carmella Bojarzin of Newark. "They enjoy taking home the vegetables which came out of their skills. We're giving them the training they need to go into the world, and we work on their social skills. They understand money and taxes."
"They're excited for the community to be here and see what they're doing," said Kelly Kinnear of Mount Vernon, a para-professional at TLS North East middle school. "They've learned to make bouquets, and they love making soap. The students built the bee boxes and painted them, and the ones who were comfortable with it, got involved with the beekeeping. This really helps them build confidence, and they're doing more in the classroom, learning interviewing skills."
The TLS board of directors is delighted to see the progress of the students, and excited for what the future holds for them. Learning 4 Life Farm is looking to put a big dent in statistics that say 85 percent of young adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed. It hopes to launch its full job training program next year.
Board member Matt McEnery of Westerville works for MAC Construction in Worthington. His middle son, Charlie, is on the autism spectrum.
"I started working with Jill Medley (TLS executive director), building projects in Canal Winchester, and I was blown away working with her," McEnery said. "I wanted to see what I could do to assist, and Jill invited me to become a board member."
At Learning 4 Life Farm, McEnery and MAC Construction have given advice and provided materials, time and labor. They have helped with the barn construction, the raised gardens, the planning of the pastures, and even adding modular classrooms for TLS North East School.
"The Learning Spectrum is growing like crazy," McEnery said. "It's something that is needed in Central Ohio."
Angela Ramos-Fields of Columbus originally got Spectrum communications involved with Learning 4 Life through a grant when she was employed there. Now part of IBM network services through Kyndryl, she aims to do the same with her new company.
"I'm still actively involved as (TLS) board vice president, and I want to make them (IBM) aware of the plan and really get them involved," she said. "My son is 21 and attended The Learning Spectrum in Columbus, so it's a decades long relationship and I want to support all of their endeavors."
"I envision a lot more coming out of this (Learning 4 Life Farm) initiative," Ramos-Fields said. "The farm gives them the work attributes they will need. It polishes up their skills so they can live their most fulfilled lives."
This year at the 4-week long Learning 4 Life Farm summer camp in June and July 2022, students gardened in our hoophouse, student vegetable garden and rain garden. In the rain garden students helped maintain it by picking and pulling the weeds. Hoop House activities consisted of harvesting flowers in the mornings and curating bouquets to sell at the farm stand in the evening. Students also sowed a cover crop in some of the hoop house raised beds to prepare for fall fertility.
Students enjoyed picking veggies all summer. After picking the students washed and prepared the veggies to be sold at the farm stand. The farm stand was a big success and the students were a major contributor to this. Not only did they prepare the veggies, flower bouquets, and homemade soap, but they actively participated in selling farm stand items to supporters.
Get more details about Learning 4 Life Farm Summer Camp HERE - enrollment for 2023 starts in March.
We sold 106 engraved bricks and raised $8480 for our alpaca farm!
THANK YOU to everyone who purchased a brick for our Learning 4 Life Farm alpaca barn sidewalk to help build our job training alpaca farm for young people on the autism spectrum. Thanks also to all those who helped get the word out about our campaign!
With your support we are on our way to completing farm construction this year - barn electric, plumbing, well, septic and HVAC, pastures and fencing for our alpacas.
Thank you again to everyone who has purchased a brick and to all our donors and supporters - let's build this farm!
Check out the video below for details on our planned sidewalk from installed Terry Lindsay of T&N Lindsay's Landscaping:
Our hoop house raised beds are in! Unheated hoop house greenhouses, also called high tunnels, are an affordable low-tech way to garden year-round. Over three workshops and a series of volunteer days, we built 30 4x8x1 foot raised beds in our new 36x90 foot hoop house for accessibility and higher yields.
Students worked with volunteers and staff to build the raised beds, using a power saw and power drills. The workshops provided an educational opportunity for 29 teens on the autism spectrum ages 13-18; 8 staff, and 9 community volunteers participating in the three day-long raised bed building workshops, and a chance for parents and volunteers to support students on the autism spectrum.
Learning 4 Life Farm Board President Dr. Rick Baltisberger led the teams of students, staff and volunteers in building the raised beds by his own simple design using 2x6 boards, 4x4's and 1x4's and deck screws. Students had a great time trying out the power saw and mastering the use of power drills. Donated materials from MAC Construction, topsoil and hardwood mulch donated by Kurtz Bros, the loan of a front loader from Fackler Kubota Tractor, and a grant from Autism Speaks made it all possible.
Students and volunteers started seeding the beds as soon as they were filled with soil, and by late October we had radishes, lettuces and more growing nicely, with harvests throughout the winter and spring vegetables and flowers ready to get an early start in Spring 2022.
Check out the great video below for more action and details from our volunteers:
We're growing here at Learning 4 Life Farm - FLOWERS!
From day one our kids have really taken to cutting flowers and arranging bouquets, and this year we did our first “test plots” of zinnias and sunflowers for cutting. The bouquets were a huge hit at our BarnRaiser Open House in July, and our staff and kids love cutting fresh bouquets every week at TLS North East - the classrooms are full of vases of blooms these days. We even harvest wildflowers from our field and tree lines - they make great habitat for our bees and other pollinators and they look great in our bouquets.
We are excited to focus a big chunk of our market gardening efforts on cut flowers as we add a 1.5 acre market garden over the next few years. As a value-added market crop with a much higher return than vegetables, we know that sale of flowers, produce and farm products at our on-site farm stand, online shop, farmer’s markets and subscription customers will provide revenue to support farm operations and a chance for our students to gain valuable work experience and social skills.
We're learning as we go and it's exciting to be part of the growing Slow Flowers movement, providing sustainable locally grown flowers to our local community. Stay tuned to purchase our gorgeous bouquets - coming soon!
This spring we started a beekeeping program at Learning 4 Life Farm! The kids love helping Beekeeper Bob Hooker with safe, simple beekeeping tasks and learning about the hive.
Check out the cool video below showing the process of installing our first hive complete with bee facts, student questions and phase one of our “Name the Queen Bee” contest (Beatrice? Bubba?) plus a great writeup by one of our students.
Our student beekeepers got an education in what happens when a newly established hive decides not to accept the queen this spring. This happens in a small percentage of new beehives purchased from a kit with workers and a queen, and unfortunately it did happen to our new hive. The female worker bees started laying unfertilized eggs which hatch into thousands of male drones! Apparently the worker bees hope a drone will be able to fly out and mate with a queen from another hive, passing on the hive genetics. Our solution: start a new hive with a new queen and worker bees. Interesting and educational experience, though, and we had fun taking care of this first hive even if it is doomed. Plus, our Directors Ms Jill Frazier Medley and Brynne Howitt Artim got to try their hand at beekeeping that day!
In June we brought in a new hive to replace our queenless drone factory. The hive is doing great and the bees are raising babies and making honey. Our old queenless hive is still doing surprisingly well and we even harvested a little honey! At the end of the summer we’ll harvest a lot more.
Thank you so much to Beekeeper Bob Hooker and Mary Hooker for donating the hive and creating our honey bee program for our students on the autism spectrum here at the Farm and TLS North East - Johnstown.
NBC 4 Daytime Columbus featured Learning 4 Life Farm as part of their April Autism Acceptance Month coverage. Learn more about our Farm program and meet some cuddly alpaca friends in this great video piece with NBC 4's Robin Haynes.
We're excited to share Learning 4 Life Farm will receive two Sponsor-A-Hive (SaH) native bee houses from The Bee Conservancy. We’re thrilled to join The Bee Conservancy's global community dedicated to protecting bees and their habitat.
Designed with sustainability, bee health, and user-friendliness in mind, the bee houses are constructed with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, sustainably-sourced pine. The houses are manufactured by Brooklyn Woods, an organization that trains unemployed and low-income New Yorkers in woodworking offering some graduates one of the first paying jobs of their careers.
During Spring 2021, our SaH Award Kit will arrive with:
We'll be installing the bee houses in our established 3600-square-foot rain garden outside the front entrance to The Learning Spectrum Northeast and next to our new 1800-square foot rain garden on the edge of our soon-to-be alpaca pasture on our job training farm site.
Thank you so much the The Bee Conservancy and their Sponsor-a-Hive supporters for their award and their continuing commitment to sustainability and the health and protection of our bees! Sponsor-a-Hive is generously supported by Texas Roadhouse, Zarbee’s Naturals, Scout & Cellar, and The Salomon Family Foundation, Manitou Foundation, Con Edison, and The New York Community Trust.
For more details on The Bee Conservancy, Sponsor-a-Hive, or to apply to receive a hive for your school or organization, check out thebeeconservancy.org
If We Build It, the Alpacas will Come - Our Farm Construction Timeline We’re breaking ground this year on our job training alpaca farm for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum!