Farm to table

When 5-year-old Jack Martin began attending the Autism Center of Tupelo last August, he couldn’t speak a word. “Within three weeks, he came home and said ‘Mama’ for the first time,” said his mother, Lisa Martin of Tupelo. “Now, I bet he says a thousand words. And we attribute it all to the Autism Center.”
The center, now located in the building that houses the Regional Rehabilitation Center on Pegram Drive, opened in Oct. 2009, said executive director Sharon Boudreaux. It offers applied behavioral analysis-based instruction to 18 regular students at the center, and has helped countless others.
Now, it’s your turn to help.
On Saturday, May 28, at 6 p.m., Tupelo chefs David Leathers and Joshua Simpson will prepare an intimate farm-to-table meal at Isis Gardens to benefit the center. Tickets for “Dining with Fireflies” are $150 each and seating is limited to 30 people.
The meal will feature whatever produce is at its peak at Isis Gardens that week – new potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, lettuce, squash, beets, cauliflower, eggs, herbs and maybe even tomatoes – as well as a locally sourced protein.
“We don’t have a stamped-out menu yet because I want people to be surprised and anticipate what the meal will be,” said Leathers, whose culinary business is called Food Stylin’. “This is all about knowing where your food comes from. You’ll be sitting over here eating, and the food will be coming from about 100 feet away from you.”

‘A real education’
Horton Nash and Genevieve Yeakel operate Isis Gardens, a Community Supported Agriculture farm, or CSA, located on Mount Vernon Road. On the day of the dinner, they’ll harvest the produce and help expedite the food in the kitchen.
“The dinner is just a treat you’re getting for helping the Autism Center,” said Nash. “We both really love kids and it’s great to be able to help out when we can. (The center) needed some special attention and if we can help them raise some money for it, we’re happy to do it.”
Yeakel has a vested interest in the fundraiser.
When she’s not planting, weeding, watering or harvesting at the farm, Yeakel’s leading classes at the Autism Center.
“I teach there two days a week, but actually it’s taught me a lot,” she said. “I hadn’t had experience with kids with autism before until I started at the center. It’s been a real education for me.”
Jonathan Adams, 5, is one of the students Yeakel helps at the center.
“When we started going to the center in September of last year, Jonathan was almost non-verbal,” said his mother, Tamie Adams of Columbus. “We had been to a speech pathologist but he had started to backslide. After we found the Autism Center, his verbal skills improved dramatically and his social skills, too. He now has kindergarten skills – he knows his colors, he can count to 100 by tens, he’s reading.”
Simpson signed on as one of the two chefs for the fundraising event before he even knew the cause.
“I found the idea of a farm-to-table dinner intriguing,” said Simpson, the executive chef at the Hilton Garden Inn. “I found out later on what it was gong to benefit, and I’m all about that, too – giving back to the community. This night, outdoors, with everything surrounding us – you just don’t get that very much here.”
For more information about “Dining with Fireflies,” call Yeakel at (330) 280-0366, email or call the Autism Center at (662) 840-0974.

– What: ‘Dining with Fireflies,’ a farm-to-table dinner prepared by chefs David Leathers and Joshua Simpson.
– Where/Who: Hosted by Isis Gardens and benefiting the Autism Center of Tupelo.
– When: Saturday, May 28, 6 p.m.
– Cost: $150 per ticket; seating limited to 30.
– Tickets: (330) 280-0366 or email
– More Info: Call the Autism Center at (662) 840-0974.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

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