Community Programs at SARRC

By | September 15, 2015
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Produce from the SAARC Garden
Photos courtesy of SAARC

Benefiting the Community One Bean at a Time


Serendipity. That’s how writers often find stories to report.

Kate Thoene, social enterprise director at Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), contacted me recently to tell me she liked one of my articles. Kate and I met 10 years ago when I wrote a story (“This Rose Helps Others to Blossom”) about an employee at Community Kitchen, Kate’s former employer. I hadn’t heard from Kate in a while so we started up a conversation about her new job. And that’s when I found out about the new edible garden and SARRC’s coffee shop. Knowing that Edible Phoenix wanted me to revisit the subject of one of my first-year stories, I accepted Kate’s invitation, made a visit to the garden and a story was born.

Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center teaches vocational and life skills through two of its social enterprise programs: Beneficial BeansR Cafe and the Beneficial BeansR garden. These programs bring in some funds but, more importantly, they raise awareness about autism, which affects one in 64 children in Arizona. The programs also provide opportunities for adults with autism to develop independent living skills.

Kate had mentioned the garden would be starting a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and farmers’ market in the fall so I decided to visit the operation and see what’s what.

It was a typically oppressive July day when I arrived at SARRC’s 16th Street Phoenix location to tour the garden. It was hot in the garden. Very hot. Despite the heat, the tomato plants were lush and heavy with fruit. There were eggplants and herbs and kale still producing.

My garden at home has been pretty much dormant since the summer heat set in. I have been working hard to keep my scraggly tomato plants alive until the weather cools off, and yet the ones at SARRC were still vibrant. I figured there must be someone with a very talented green thumb looking after the garden. And, indeed, there is. In fact, it’s not just one person but several. The garden at SARRC is being cared for by interns, young people with autism, under the direction of Program Coordinator Sarah Grone.

Grone, a transplant to the Valley from California, has a horticulture and farming background. She manages the day-today tasks for the garden and is responsible for training the interns.

The internship program runs for 10 weeks. During that time, the interns work in the garden weeding, harvesting, planting and caring for the chickens in the chicken coop. More importantly, though, once the CSA and farmers’ market are up and running, the interns will be learning business, marketing and customer service skills. The purpose of the program is not necessarily to prepare the interns to work in agriculture but rather to prepare them for life.

The garden, in addition to supplying the produce for the CSA, provides produce for Beneficial Beans Cafe. The recently remodeled space, located inside Scottsdale Civic Center Library, offers a full espresso menu, fresh baked pastries and snacks.

The coffee served at the Cafe was selected by SARRC staff and roasted specifically to their specifications. The baked goods and energy bars come from two operations owned by adults with autism: Stuttering King Bakery supplies the pastries and Essential Nourishment supplies the energy bars.

The Café is also a SARRC internship program for young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Interns at the Cafe develop expertise in customer service, distribution and sales, cash handling and general barista skills.

Like the Community Kitchen we profiled 10 years ago, the garden and Cafe programs at SARRC are using food to help to raise awareness in the community as well as provide interns with skills needed to live productive, independent lives.

Show Your Support

Beneficial Beans Café is located at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd.; Scottsdale. For more information visit®-cafe or follow them at *NEW:* Beneficial Beans has opened another location at Burton Barr Public Library, 1221 N. Central Ave.; Phoenix.

The Beneficial Beans coffee and black cherry honey granola are for sale at the Cafe and online at and/or may be included with the CSA (see below).

John Dalen is the entrepreneur behind Essential Nourishment. He credits the Rising Entrepreneur Program at SARRC with helping him refine his recipe for the energy bars. He bakes gluten-free, vegan bars that include essential oils for added health benefits. For more information about his products and ordering via email, see

Matt Cottle, the man behind Stuttering King Bakery, learned his skill from SARRC vocational and Life Skills Academy Culinary Works® program. He then continued studying privately with a pastry chef. He hopes someday to teach the art of baking to other people with autism. See for other distribution locations and orders.

For more information regarding the upcoming CSA and to place your order, see®-produce.

Sharon Salomon, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer and dedicated eater who hopes that someday she can meet the challenge of balancing all the calories she consumes in the interest of research with enough exercise to keep her weight stable. She can be reached at

Article from Edible Phoenix at
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