Mobile Garden Unit


For the last few years, the Autism Society of NL has been equipping young men and women with employable skills, particularly in the field of gardening.


“We have a full-service community garden here,” says Greg Knott, Manager of Revenue Development & Communications. “We have 26 garden beds, a large vegetable garden, and a 10-bed berry garden.” They’re growing everything from garlic to spinach to berries and “what we call our Jiggs’ Dinner beds, of turnip, cabbage, potato, etc.”

The youth in their pre-employment program work in these gardens 5 days a week. “Besides just learning gardening techniques and how to maintain a bed, they’re learning a lot of the soft skills you need to work any job. Time management skills, organization skills, how to interact with staff and customers.” The produce they grow is used onsite in their very popular restaurant and catering service, The Pantry. “100% of the things from our vegetable and berry gardens are used in The Pantry. Plus the guys turn berries into jams that we sell in the fall of the year.”


So, where does the Albedo Grant come in? The Autism Society wants to turn the experience and momentum they’ve gained from their gardening operation into a social enterprise. Around the time we announced our grant, the Autism Society had been talking internally about the idea of forming a “Mobile Garden Unit” to service the gardens and flower beds of off-site, commercial, governmental, and private clients. In short, they want to turn their new talents into a new revenue stream for the Autism Society; a revenue stream that they can sink back into their many programs and initiatives.

It’s not often a scenario can beat “win-win,” but the ASNL Mobile Garden Unit has: it’s win-win-win. Youth with autism learn employable skills, the Autism Society generates its own money (as opposed to relying on finicky fundraisers and government grants), and clients around town are getting their gardening needs met by capable hands. “The ASNL Mobile Garden Unit will take four youths into the community and provide general garden maintenance and beautification operations to a variety of commercial and private customers. This could include flower bed beautification, general garden work and maintenance, spring cleaning, and winterization.”


ASNL’s Mobile Gardening Unit will use our $10,000 to purchase all the equipment they’ll need to meet industry standards with their work. The grant will also be used to help in marketing and promoting the Mobile Gardening Unit. But of course, if you’re reading this you know who to call now for your gardening needs, don’t you?

The idea is already road-tested. “Last year, we worked with St. Pat’s Mercy home; we cleaned up their flower beds for their annual garden party, and they were floored by the type and quality of work we provided for them. Plus we also provided flowers to them, as we grow our own flowers here in our greenhouse.”

Planned Parenthood was another company they’ve serviced in their trial run, and Planned Parenthood have committed to using their services again. The Mobile Gardening Unit’s momentum is revving up quite organically, pardon the double-pun. “There’s a number of smaller organizations that we work with on a regular basis. When they’d show up onsite for meetings, they’d see our guys working, and see the quality of work they were doing. We started getting some enquiries about providing those services offsite.” So they have enough commitments from future clients to get their pilot project off the ground. Thanks largely to this 10 grand they’ve just won.


Speaking of thanks, all we’ve done here at The Overcast was spearhead administering this grant. It was made possible thanks to the generosity of its founding sponsor, Dean MacDonald (CEO of Tuckamore Capital and the man behind the benevolent, community-minded Clan Mac Foundation), and the O’Dea family, who came onboard to match Dean’s money: lawyer John O’Dea of McInnes & Cooper, and Chris & Margaret O’Dea of O’Dea’s Realty and Auction Room Ltd.

“I was interested in being a sponsor of this program because I recognize just how far a little help can go in making a dream a reality,” Dean says. “This grant also helps define our community by supporting unique ideas close to home. As for the Autism Mobile Garden , I was supportive of this idea because the concept was solid, the objective very clearly defined, and success seems well within reach. Likewise it will have a very positive impact for everyone involved.”

“I like the idea of giving someone a leg up,” says John, “no matter how small the lift is.” It’s something John’s been doing privately for years. Some of his early successes where in providing money to Kim Stockwood’s first CD, Bonavista, The Once’s first EP, Jordan Canning’s first film, and the Fresh Fish Award (which was inaugurated by his brother Brian). He has also worked with Theresa Rahal of Strategic Directions Inc. in assisting her new venture clients get established. “Business start-ups hold a huge interest for me.”

For his brother Chris, it was Dean’s involvement that piqued his interest. “I have known the MacDonald Clan all my life, and I have admired Dean’s ability to make things happen. When my brother John asked if we would join him and double the financial award, Margaret and I immediately said yes.”

There was an overwhelming number of solid, worthy submissions. As Chris says, “Many other applicants put forward novel and creative proposals, equally meritorious in their own way. But every individual in society should be given an opportunity to contribute to the best of their ability, including those who face challenges associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The mobile garden unit has the potential to develop into a self sustaining business, and we wanted to support an initiative that could have the potential for growth and long-term success.”