Special needs people grow their skills at vertical farm

Mr Tan Guo Xiong (left), 30, and Mr Saw with purple cai xin harvested from the vertical farm at the APSN Centre for Adults yesterday. The new centre helps to prepare people with special needs for employment.
Mr Tan Guo Xiong (left), 30, and Mr Saw with purple cai xin harvested from the vertical farm at the APSN Centre for Adults yesterday. The new centre helps to prepare people with special needs for employment. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

There is something refreshing about the new centre of the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), which officially opened in Jalan Ubi yesterday.

Instead of having just the usual sheltered workshops, the APSN Centre for Adults is the first in Singapore to feature a "vertical farm" for the purposes of training people with mild intellectual disability.

The centre, located at the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub, helps 120 clients aged at least 17 to experience an actual working environment in preparation for employment.

At the vertical farm, the centre's clients are taught how to germinate and harvest crops, as well as the mechanics of transplanting, maintenance, soil care and soil mixing.

Vegetables planted will be sold and the income used to fund the running of the centre.

Its first crops - such as bok choy, purple cai xin and kang kong - were harvested yesterday by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, the guest of honour at the opening.

Noting that the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub is home to other voluntary welfare organisations, Mr Tan encouraged the groups to collaborate and share resources to serve their clients better.

"For example, APSN has experience in horticulture and landscaping activities, and has shared its expertise with the We Care Community Services, which is also based here (in the hub)," he said.

One client who is happy to work on the farm is Mr Saw Wei Yuan, 29, who has cerebral palsy and mild intellectual disability. He said: "I learnt how to cut and water the plants. I'm very happy to work here - it's good for my future."

In addition to horticulture, APSN offers vocational programmes covering the food and beverage, hospitality and retail sectors.

The centre has seven training rooms that simulate actual work environments, such as a kitchen, bakery and occupational therapy room.

A sheltered training room is provided for clients to perform simpler tasks such as refurbishing spectacles and pasting labels on egg trays, as part of contract work.

APSN president Chan Chee Keong said: "This centre was set up 30 years ago when we realised that our (special needs) children required vocational training more than academic education."

He hopes the training will arm people with special needs with the skills to enter industries lacking manpower, such as the hospitality and food and beverage sectors.

"They need to acquire the skills to lead meaningful lives through gainful employment," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Special needs people grow their skills at vertical farm'. Print Edition | Subscribe