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Horticulture Program  

“I like planting the seeds and seeing the results.”  

- Jeff 


The Horticulture Program at the Charles River Center in Needham, Massachusetts is an innovative program that educates adults with developmental disabilities and autism to grow and tend organic produce and flowers. care for farm animals, and interact with the natural environment.  Established in 2015, individuals who participate enjoy the entire growing process--from soil preparation, to seed sowing, to plant care, to harvesting.  


Produce and flowers are started in a greenhouse at the Charles River Center, and are transplanted to five-gallon buckets at the Center, as well as raised beds at the Needham Community Farm.  Individuals then harvest, prepare and pack the produce so it can be donated to local food banks.

To date, over 100 individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy have developed and strengthened transferable skills for future employment, and are gaining numerous physical and therapeutic benefits.



Not only is the program popular with participants, individuals are benefiting greatly from the program:

Employment training benefits:

  • Agricultural skills: planting, tending, and harvesting
  • Communication skills and the ability to follow instructions
  • Customer service skills

Physical benefits:

  • Development of fine and gross motor skills
  • Strength building
  • Increased awareness of nutrition

Therapeutic benefits:

  • Increased communication and team-building
  • Stress reduction
  • Increased social interaction
  • Gained sense of responsibility and accomplishment

Mike Bolio, Horticulture Program Coordinator, has a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Santa Cruz, California. Mike is committed to organic practices and is enthusiastic about the beneficial outcomes he sees for the individuals.  Feel free to contact Mike at or (781) 972-1095.


“I like working with flowers and learning how to make bouquets.  My favorite vegetable to grow is tomatoes.”

- Mary


“I have always been interested in growing plants, and I’m happy that I get to help out and learn.  I like learning how to plant organically.” 


- Brian