Presently, New Jersey lacks significant, meaningful job opportunities for citizens with developmental disability. The LetUsConnect Farm employment model addresses a challenge common to most New Jersey communities: access to meaningful employment for this segment of the population. This project realizes the unique talents of the under-represented population to the workplace and their tangible contributions to the employers’ enterprises. Employing these citizens
will not only give them the opportunity to learn marketable skills that they will then be able to apply to other areas of their lives and work, but will also promote their involvement in one of the most fundamental aspects of the concept of community – the production of food.
LetUsConnect Farm is replicating the proven employment model developed by a program called Arthur and Friends that is based in New Jersey. Arthur & Friends is helping to create healthy working environments through employment training and opportunities that enable people with developmental disabilities to learn and master life-skills, basic work skills, and specialized agribusiness skills; to develop an organizational culture that encourages individuals to utilize their potential to contribute rather than discounting them on the basis of stereotypes or generalizations about their “limitations”; and to achieve economic self-sufficiency, thereby attaining full access to, and participation in, their communities.
In brief, Arthur & Friends creates training and employment programs for individuals 18 years of age and older with developmental disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy and autism) so that they may live, work, and fully participate in their communities. During the first four years of operation a nationally recognized, award-winning Arthur & Friends program and curriculum with the intent to promote job skills and employment opportunities for disabled adults in the green/agribusiness sector was created and tested. Arthur & Friends is now in its eighth year of operation.
Arthur & Friends provides on-the-job training in hydroponic greenhouses in New Jersey, Indiana, Connecticut, Missouri, Wyoming, Oregon, and dozens of other states, which grow fresh produce for farmers markets as well as high-end restaurants. While this country has many programs for the mentally and physically challenged, there are few programs for these people once they reach maturity and need jobs to live productive lives.
The program has been visited by dozens of organizations from around the country looking to replicate the work being accomplished originally in New Jersey in their communities. Currently, over 34 states that have expressed genuine interest in being part of the Arthur & Friends greenhouse project. The project currently has seventeen greenhouses throughout the country and has provided training and employment for over 400 individuals with disabilities. Demand from retailers and restaurants have been increasing exponentially, and the number of greenhouses and participants has been growing despite the troubles in the national economy. Arthur and Friends is providing support and consulting for this employment model to other non-profits organizations.
LetUsConnect Farm has partnered with Arthur and Friends “To Cultivate a Better Planet.” LetUsConnect Farm will train persons with autism to grow, harvest and sell produce. Graduates of the program will be hired as workers, trainers and supervisors in the greenhouse, where they can make between $8.50 and $15 per hour, depending on their responsibilities in other retail and wholesale aspects of the business. Each employee will be eligible for annual reviews to document and acknowledge progress and gaps.
Family Resource Network (FRN) is another stakeholder in the LetUsConnect Farm program. Already having a program named “The Family Resource FOOD Network”, which provides training on kitchen safety, safe food handling, healthy food options and appropriate sanitation, Family Resource Network blends seamlessly with the core philosophy, vision, and operational aspects of LetUsConnect Firm. FRN will provide manpower and training staff on an ongoing basis to sustain the initiative in the long run.