PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Jessica Roost did not grow up on a farm. Six years ago she had zero experience farming. Now, on a daily basis, she finds herself in situations she never imagined she’d be a part of while farming and teaching others how to as well.

“It’s very fun to be able to experience that with other people — almost therapeutic for yourself and them,” Roost said.

Roost is the executive director of Growing Roots, a nonprofit in Comstock Park that gives adults with disabilities a chance to reach greater independence by helping them find meaning and purpose through nature-based activities.

“When you’re interacting with nature, there is a motivation that is different than if you are trying to do something therapeutic in a room or within four walls,” Roost said. “We have people that participate who have zero interest in nature or farming, but they’re able to find something that they can do.”

Roost’s journey to the farm started in her relationship with her nephew. He was her inspiration to become an occupational therapist because she recognized that as a young man growing up with autism, the older he got, the fewer the resources that were available to him. She found passion in providing services for adults with disabilities.

“When they age out of the school system, it’s really difficult to find anything meaningful or purposeful to get involved in. So oftentimes people with developmental disabilities end up sort of sequestered in whatever home they’re in or wherever they’re living,” Roost said. “And there isn’t a whole lot to get them out into the community or to get them to do something that, that is meaningful and provides a satisfying life.”

In 2016, after an internship on a farm in New York, Roost took what she learned and started a two-week pilot program, which grew into a summer camp in 2017 and 2018, and since 2019 has been a year-round mission of recreation, rehabilitation, prevocational and vocational lessons.

“Our intention is never for a person to have their ultimate goal to be, to work on a farm or anything like that,” Roost explained. “The intention is to just empower them to seek out whatever, whatever is meaningful to them.”

Roost finds that many of her participants have been cared for their entire lives. When Growing Roots gives them the space to cultivate a seed to fruition, it’s the first time they were able to care for something on their own.

That confidence and the knowledge they build along the way is the tool Growing Roots gives them to feel a part of the community and may propel them to get a job or volunteering opportunity that they didn’t think was possible before.

Growing Roots participants feed and groom animals during class. (December 2021)

“I knew there was a need and that’s why we wanted to fill this need, but I didn’t expect such an overwhelming response to it,” Roost said about the people craving the Growing Roots programs. “We have parents all the time say, ‘There’s nothing like this, we had nothing for our son or daughter, and now they’re in something that matters and that means something to them.'”

The group is for any adult with disabilities. Right now their members range in age from 16 to 67. During the warmer months, they’ll plant fruits, vegetables or flowers and learn about the gardening process. They tend to animals on the farm year-round, grooming them or feeding them.

By harvesting the fruit of independence, Growing Roots plants the seeds and provides the resources to help a community grow.

“I feel like they’re enriching my life more than I’m enriching theirs. Sure I’ve provided the program and I’ve built the program and provide the support and the space, but the magic of what happens here is really all on them and their desire to … live a life more independently and to find meaning and purpose,” Roost said. “All they needed was the space and the support to do that. Given that, their potential is limitless, absolutely limitless.”

Learn more about ways to get involved with Growing Roots at wegrowroots.org.