Almost half of the 25-year-olds with autism have never had a paid job. Greens Do Good, a vertical hydroponic farm in Hackensack, New Jersey, wants to change that.
The students work with packaging and planting on the farm.
“We have an easily replicable concept that creates skilled, talented and focused workers for controlled horticulture,” said Jennifer Faust, director of operations at Greens Do Good.
It is not about high tech for Greens Do Good, but about the practical side of the tasks
Greens Do Good is driven by the mission to grow food locally while providing meaningful training and employment for people with autism. Through the farm’s Workforce Development Program, Greens Do Good provides more than 1,000 hours of training to teenagers and young adults with autism each year.
“The program has been in high demand since it launched in early 2021. We currently see 50 participants from 10 districts and/or private schools per semester. Due to the facility’s limited space, there is now a waiting list for the program,” said Jennifer.
Lisa Goldstein and Jennifer Faust
Greens Do Good is part of the REED Autism Services family of programs that aim to support people with autism and help them thrive throughout their lives. Greens Do Good gives everyone the opportunity to do tasks that match their interests and skills, whether it’s planting, harvesting, packing or delivery.
The products are packaged for retail
“With the global hydroponics market expected to grow 22.5% through 2025, Greens Do Good represents a unique job training opportunity in a growing industry,” said Chantelle Walker, CEO of REED Autism Services.
Delivery of sustainable products through various sales channels
As Lisa Goldstein, director of sales, explains, Greens Do Good has multiple outlets, including three ShopRite locations within 32 miles, numerous restaurants and country clubs, direct-to-consumer sales, and partner organizations such as Greater Bergen Community Action (GBCA), committed to giving young children a good start. Through the GBCA and Greens Do Good, children learn about the benefits of healthy eating.
Microgreens and edible flowers are also grown according to the customer’s wishes.
In a 3,300-square-foot indoor facility, Greens Do Good produces approximately 2,400 units of basil, more than 1,000 heads of lettuce, 40-50 pounds of baby arugula, kale and spring mix, plus 40-50 pounds of microgreens per month.
According to horticultural technician Tyler Hall, the process begins with seeding in either the Coconut IHORT or Rockwool grow tray, which is placed in a dark rack for 2-3 days until the seeds begin to germinate. The seedlings are then transplanted into an LED light tower and grown there until they produce their first real leaves. Finally, the seedlings are transplanted into foam trays and grown there until harvest.
The germination chamber
“We are not only socially conscious, but also environmentally conscious. We pay close attention to nutrient use and water use, and wherever possible we reuse and recycle all our culture plates. We control all factors,” explains Tyler.
Expansion planned in partnership with Ramapo College and NJSEA
Greens Do Good is eager to expand its footprint in the near future through its upcoming partnership with Ramapo College in New Jersey and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA). Through this partnership, Greens Do Good will expand its farms to the NJSEA-owned Meadowlands Environment Center and will establish a higher education program for people with autism in partnership with Ramapo College.
“We’re going to bypass typical higher education entry qualifications and create a system where people with autism can pursue higher education in sustainability, earth science and biology. They’ll get hands-on experience on the farm and graduate with a degree,” says Jennifer. which also says that the program could start as early as January 2023.
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