Apple orchards hotbed of experience for Pre-ETS students Sebastian Faribairn at Countryside Apples in Cokato

The apple may not fall far from the tree, but there were many apples in the fall that needed picking. Students with disabilities served by Functional Industries Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program gained valuable work experience at different orchards west of the Twin Cities.

Employment specialists Jill Belland and Rachael Boedeker developed an outreach plan to area orchards after Belland hatched the idea for 14- to 21-year-olds who explore employment and self-advocacy through the Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) program.

They found apple picking and other jobs filled orchard needs and real work for about 15 hours per week between September and November, explains Ashley Nordlie, director of individual services for Buffalo-based Functional Industries.

Student experiences and interests

Student Sebastian Faribairn worked four days a week at Country Side Apples in Cokato picking the sweet fruit and hopesColton Bermel at Deer Lake Orchard in Buffalo to come back next year. Functional Industries staff said he hopes to be a firefighter, likes outdoor activities and animals.

Another student, Colton Bermel, said his work at Deer Lake Orchard in Buffalo was very rewarding and satisfying. He appreciates the sciences and how things interact together, and finds working outdoors to be peaceful and enjoyable, according to Functional staff.

And, a third student, Cole Terway, did the job at Gilchrist Orchard in Buffalo. Functional staff said he likes to stay busy and moving, and loves to see how things operate and to learn. He did picking and sorting.

Spreading the word

Area orchards talk to one another, so word spread, even reaching an orchard outside of Functional’s service area. The one to one support focus offered by Functional tailors employment experiences to each student, said Nordlie. Some may already be working but want to do additional job exploration to determine their post-secondary options.

Pre-ETS is composed of five activities: job exploration counseling, work based learning, counseling and postsecondary education options, workplace readiness training and instruction in self-advocacy.

Pre-ETS from the start at Functional

Functional is no stranger to Pre-ETS, having offered the service for almost three years. In its current fiscal year, 71 students have signed up.

Pre-ETS students at Functional typically find work more quickly than other students after graduation because they’ve gained so many beneficial work skills, said Nordlie.  

Cole Terway at Gilchrist Orchard in Buffalo