With the popularity of farm-to-table dinners, Creative Work Systems (CWS) has hit upon the right fit for its annual fundraiser.
“It’s been an opportunity to take the three focuses of our program — agriculture, arts and culinary — and showcase them together in a fun way,” said Jacqueline Curtis, manager of the agency’s Cultivation Works program. “People of all abilities can farm and provide healthy food. And I’ve always wanted to do a farm-to-table dinner.”
The Barn at Flanagan Farm in Buxton donated the hall, an immaculately renovated space often used for wedding receptions, for the Nourish event. From the fiddlers to the Mason jar drinking glasses and fresh garden flowers, the whole thing was farm chic. Perfect for a late-summer harvest dinner for 70.
“It’s lovely,” said Betsy Bodor, dining with her husband and other civic-minded couples from Scarborough, including Bob and Cindy Convery.
The evening’s fare included several dishes made from produce harvested by CWS agriculture students. Farm-to-table items included fresh garden salad, roasted ginger carrots, German potato salad, green beans with lemon and garlic, and eggplant parmesan.
Gasps of appreciation were heard around the room when oversized trifles with layered Maine mixed berries were served rather dramatically to all the tables at once, looking as much like centerpieces as desserts.
The kitchen volunteers included CWS culinary students Angela Duffy of Limerick and Renee Carmire of Saco, and art student Bob Simkowitz, who was recognized for being featured at Cooney Gallery in Lewiston.
Each dinner guest was invited to take home a pottery vase made by a CWS participant, which Bodor thought was a wonderfully personal touch unusual at a benefit.
Throughout Southern Maine, CWS helps more than 350 adults who have disabilities — including intellectual developmental, muscular dystrophy and brain injury — find residential support, social opportunities and career training.
“It’s being creative and figuring out what is the job you want to do, and looking at the business community and seeing what they need in the labor force, and finding a match,” said Susan Percy, executive director of CWS.
CWS helps participants prepare for, find and keep jobs everywhere from supermarkets to restaurants to law offices.
“These services are expensive because they are very individualized,” said Shannon Hartmann, program manager of employment services.
Some young adults just out of high school have to wait months or years for government vouchers to pay for CWS support. For this reason, CWS created a club for ages 17 to 21 called Team Up! in Portland, Saco and Auburn. Nourish raised about $4,000 that goes to Team Up!
“If you’re a young adult, there’s a waiting list,” Hartmann said. “This event is trying to bridge that gap left by the government.”
“We had a great turnout tonight,” said kitchen volunteer Sabrina Collins, a Thornton Academy student. “CWS is trying to improve the lives of people who need training on how to do new things or who need an opportunity to do things they never had a chance to do before.”
Jackie Reis, an art specialist in the CWS studio in Portland, hopes to see Team Up! scholarships get people into the program who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.
CWS teaches everything from sensory-based art — or art therapy — to more advanced classes in ceramics, pottery, technology-based art, drawing and painting. Together, the three CWS studios in Saco, Portland and Auburn serve 175 adults. CWS sells the work of some participants at coffee shops and art fairs, with half the money going to the artist and half going back into the art program.
Reis says local art lovers have come to recognize work by CWS artists as often being “whimsical and intuitive” and completely “uninhibited,” in the vein of folk art.
“The work just taps into this creative side,” Reis said. “People are people. You’re a person first, and the disability comes after that.”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer living in Scarborough. She can be reached at: