August 11, 2013

Blind gardeners picking fruits of their labors

Two are selling produce at a farm stand in Fairfield; they plan to donate food to the Boys & Girls Club.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD - There was no way two visually impaired men could plant a 2,800-square-foot vegetable garden and grow enough produce to feed their families and help others as well.

click image to enlarge

Milk jugs help visually impaired gardeners David Perry of Waterville and Deon Lyons of Clinton identify rows in a garden they have cultivated in Fairfield.

Jeff Pouland/Morning Sentinel

No way.

But it happened.

"You start to believe it; people told you you couldn't do it," gardener David Perry said. "Yes, we can do it. We just had to adapt. There is a lot of layers of emotion there."

In early May, Perry, 43, of Waterville, teamed up with 52-year-old Deon Lyons of Clinton to plant a garden off Main Street in Fairfield.

Both Perry and Lyons are legally blind and use touch, sound and distinctive markers to navigate each row for vegetable planting and harvesting.

Lyons, who lost his vision in 2010, said his world fell apart, partially because he could no longer do one of the things he enjoyed most -- gardening.

He met Perry and all that changed.

Lyons said getting started as Perry's helper was frustrating at first. Just maintaining his balance between rows was a challenge.

"It was the first time I had used the sight line or guide line, method of planting," Lyons said. "Just to be able to weed down through the rows and feel the stuff sprout up out of the ground -- that was the best part of gardening."

In the guide line method of planting for people with visual impairments, rows are laid out with twine running in a straight line the full distance of each row. Plant placement is done along the guide lines with a 5- or 6-inch stick or the length of a person's hand separating each plant.

Cardboard is placed between each row for weed control and to clearly separate the rows so the men can tell where to walk. This week, that harvest of friendship began to pay off with zucchini, radishes, garlic, broccoli and 60-foot rows of salad greens.

The bounty includes the typical garden fare of tomatoes, carrots, green beans and onions, but also several unusual and heirloom varieties of runner, pole, dry and sugar snap beans and other legumes.

They raise the heirloom Marfax bean for drying. Marfax is one of 16 traditional vegetables that farmers and gardeners are growing for RAFT -- Renewing America's Food Traditions, a national group seeking to preserve traditional fruits and vegetables and methods of cooking.

There also is a 20-foot row of cilantro, 45 feet of yellow eye beans, bay leaves, red-hot chili peppers, Lillian tomatoes, collard greens, and two types of amaranth -- one of the primary crops of the ancient Aztecs, which are prized for their greens and potent black seeds, Perry said.

Perry, who has been sight impaired for most of his life, said he can't see the rows where each variety is planted, but he has all of them memorized.

Lyons said he has about 75 percent of the garden locations set to memory, but still has to start at the first row to count forward to know where he is.

Perry, who in 2008 completed the Journeyperson Program sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, started the garden with the help of his wife, Julie, three years ago. He said all of the vegetables are grown organically, using organic compost, sea kelp and fish emulsion.

Lyons said he said has exchanged a lot of emails through a blind forum using an IBM Lotus Symphony application known as JAWS from Freedom Scientific of Florida.

JAWS, which stands for Job Access With Speech, is a screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content, according to the company's website. JAWS reads aloud what's on the computer screen and gives the user tools for navigating and accessing web pages and screen content.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)