The scramble to find an internship for the summer. A common thing that a lot of college students face when trying to figure out how they want to spend their summer. I was very lucky, to get an opportunity to interview with 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. and experience Smile Farms. As a freshman, it was very encouraging to get a chance, and see that there were people who are impressed with my qualities.
Day 1 = nerve wracking. Not sure what to expect. Will I fit in? Can I keep up and do the work? All those questions were answered on the first day, immediately when I understood the amazing culture of the organization. I felt immersed in an environment where the team’s motivation was fueled by a passion for giving back to others.
The transition from being a college intern to a member of the team was the most memorable. Campus trips, to meetings, and phone calls was a part of my daily schedule. I felt accountable, looked up to, relied on; actually made me feel emotional at times, knowing that the work I was doing was critically important. The most amazing part was seeing the operational end of a non-profit like Smile Farms. Believe me, non-profits are so much more than a mission statement and a fundraiser. It takes compassion, drive, ambition, and the ability to have vision and work to achieve it. Also known as hours of work, planning, calls and giving your time to contribute to a great cause.
With family members who have developmental disabilities, one of the scariest things is thinking about what life would be like after a time comes that you have to let go and set them free to be independent. These are the programs that keep families optimistic, knowing that there are opportunities for their loved ones to flourish and be a part of the community. When visiting the Smile Farms Campuses, its like visiting a little community, of people who accept each other, value one another, and shine a light to bring out individual’s confidence.
When the goodbyes are harder, that’s when you know the experience was worthwhile. These are the people who have made the sometimes freezing cold and sometimes humid buildings and the weekend train commutes worth it. Lastly, thank you Jim and Chris McCann, for taking a chance on an idea that has now helped people with developmental disabilities immerse themselves in the community. Just thank you.
EisnerAmper Cares is an initiative of the accounting firm EisnerAmper LLP that encourages and supports the volunteer efforts of the firm’s employees. EisnerAmper Cares is involved with numerous volunteer events at various charitable organizations, but none are as special to me as our work with Smile Farms Inc., an organization that we have watched “grow” since 2015. Smile Farms' mission is to provide developmentally disabled adults with meaningful work opportunities at farms, urban gardens, greenhouses and farm stands where they can grow and sell flowers, plants and produce in their local communities.
On July 9, I was a part of a team of 15 volunteers from EisnerAmper that went out to the Smile Farms location at Skills Unlimited in Oakdale, NY to assist with garden work. Smile Farms broke ground at Skills Unlimited in 2017 and has since grown exponentially, boasting 24 raised beds, 10 employees, aeroponic towers, a hoop house and a green house. Our volunteer day was well-timed, as it was scheduled only days before a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the location, celebrating Smile Farms’ generous donation of a beautiful greenhouse to the Skills Unlimited location. The greenhouse will allow the program to run year-round and means so much to its employees! We spent the day in the gardens, weeding, digging and cleaning up so they were ready for the celebration.
Last July, when we volunteered at the Smile Farms at IGHL in Moriches, NY, our volunteers had the opportunity to work alongside some of the individuals that are employed by that farm, and hear firsthand how important their work was to them. One after another wanted to tell me how they spend their wages and how they look forward to coming to work. This year, while we did our volunteer work on a day when the Smile Farms employees had some time off, we had the opportunity to work with Ryan Ferguson, the garden supervisor at Skills Unlimited. It was apparent how devoted he is to his job and to the Smile Farms employees. He told us how much his students loved working in the gardens and how it was a literal breath of fresh air for them. As Ryan explained the mission of Skills Unlimited and how the Smiles Farms garden fit into that mission, I could not get over what an amazing partnership the two organizations have.
Smile Farms has a mission that means a lot to me personally. My father, after retiring from his business, devotes his time as a counselor for developmentally disabled adults. Some of his charges are frequent visitors at the house, coming over to join in our family dinners or just to say hi. My mother works with children who are developmentally disabled. Spending time with these individuals, it is apparent how much they’re like everyone else: how accomplished they feel when they can work and do something productive. Smile Farms gives them those opportunities.
On Wednesday July 24, 2019 my husband and I, along with our children, attended the 3rd annual Smile Farms event at CitiField: A Night Under the Lights. It was a fun-filled, family-friendly evening at the ball park in support of Smile Farms' mission. The FREE Players Ensemble, a regionally-renowned singing group composed of adults with developmental disabilities, sang the National Anthem and Smile Farms' supporters were welcomed onto the warning track to support them and bring awareness to Smile Farms’ cause. A great time was had by all. I hope you will join Smile Farms at their next event!
Smile Farms at Skills Unlimited, Inc. plants seeds of opportunity to developmentally disabled individuals and the surrounding community. There is nothing more rewarding than the smiles I am presented with each day. I am proud to say that I’m a part of this amazing operation.
I started my journey working at Skills Unlimited, Inc. in Oakdale as a Garden Instructor last June. I couldn’t be happier. Having grown up working at a nursery, my knowledge of horticulture began at a young age. I was presented the Garden Instructor position by a current coworker while shopping at the nursery I previously worked at.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with Skills and Smile Farms. However, I soon realized how incredible the partnership between the two are. Alongside my job, I’m a full-time Journalism student at Stony Brook University. Between work and college, I tie together what I’ve learned to run Smile Farms at Skills Unlimited, Inc.
Over the past year, our program has seen great improvements. As we continue to grow, literally in size, the garden offers more each day. Recently, Smile Farms assisted us with a generous donation to build a beautiful greenhouse. This greenhouse will allow the program to run year-round, giving our individuals the capability to succeed even more.
Smile Farms at Skills Unlimited, an affiliate of Family Residences and Essential Enterprises Inc. (FREE), employs people with intellectual, developmental, and mental health diagnoses. Ten employees tend 24 raised beds, Aeroponic towers, a greenhouse and hoop house growing vegetables and herbs, with the harvest used in the onsite kitchen.
Each day, our employees strive and make great accomplishments. “It’s rewarding,” said Cody Burke. After a discussion with his father, “Cody won’t garden at home the way he does at work, it’s amazing.”
The program at Skills Unlimited, Inc. has been thriving thanks to a great partnership with Smile Farms. My students and I are so excited to watch this program expand each day. It offers so much hope and opportunity.
Please consider visiting the Shop Smile Farms page to view product, hours and contact information for participating campuses.
Skills Unlimited Inc.
The pioneering work of Smile Farms in making employment opportunities in agricultural settings
available to adults with developmental and intellectual challenges is vitally important given that almost 80% of this population nationwide is unemployed.
As we all know, work helps define a person’s identity, builds self-worth and self-esteem and connects the individual to his or her community.
At the League Education and Treatment Center, ten of our day habilitation clients have totally embraced their part time jobs as farmers raising produce in the urban farm we constructed on the site of a dilapidated playground on the grounds of one of our schools. Michael, a Smile Farms at LETC employee, made the following exclamation when interviewed about his job for the Smile Farms newsletter, “It makes me feel good, it makes me feel important and makes me feel like I’m somebody!”
LETC is extremely grateful for the startup support we have received from Smile Farms. Still, we are very aware that in a short period of time we must generate sufficient revenue to pay the wages of our clients ourselves and should not be solely dependent on grants from the Smile Farms organization.
Our business plan for the farm is to specialize in growing “hard to source” hot chili peppers during the summer months, which we will market to local restaurants and at greenmarkets. We will grow micro-greens in our hoop house during the winter months to sell to restaurants and health food stores. These activities also offer our clients experience in marketing and retail sales.
Yet, sale of produce alone will not supply all of the revenue we require. With some entrepreneurial
vision it seems to us that we can increase income by building on our farming activities and spinning off new related ventures.
The most obvious one is to create a hot sauce with our peppers (outsourcing production to a
commercial kitchen) and market the sauce throughout our community. Hot sauce and dried peppers
may also be marketed through the Internet as well as locally.
In addition, growing heirloom organic tomatoes and sweet peppers (combined with chilies) offers an opportunity to create and sell bottled salsa; growing heirloom tomatoes might lead to the production of a boutique tomato sauce product as well.
Most significantly, the Smile Farms model of creating a revenue generating business to employ clients who earn a real wage from the proceeds might suggest utilizing that approach beyond an agricultural setting. LETC’s next venture using this business model may be the production of artisan handmade pasta (a really good opportunity for individuals who like repetitive tasks) with the recommendation to cook and serve the pasta with Smile Farms at LETC tomato sauce.
League Education & Treatment Center
Visit the Smile Farms Take Action page to learn how you can get involved.
Our 3rd Annual Spring Benefit will be an exciting, inspiring evening to benefit Smile Farms, the signature philanthropic partner of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. The event will take place on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at Riverpark in NYC. This year’s honoree is Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. (ARE). Executive Vice President/Regional Market Director, New York, John H. Cunningham, will share special remarks around the impactful partnership between Smile Farms and ARE. Tony Award nominee Ann Hampton Callaway will dazzle us with her unique vocal styling and instrumental accompaniments to the great American Songbook.
“We are honored to recognize Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.'s role in the growth and success of Smile Farms,” said Jennifer Carpenter Low, Vice President, Smile Farms. “Funds raised at the 3rd Annual Spring Benefit will enable us to continue to create more opportunities and jobs for people with developmental disabilities."
Smile Farms at Riverpark launched in 2018 in collaboration with the Center for Family Support, which provides support services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Employees work at Riverpark Farm, one of the largest urban farms in NY, supplying produce to Tom Colicchio's Riverpark restaurant next door. Smile Farms at Riverpark is the first campus to include a for-profit enterprise.
Special thanks to our partners at Eventsful and incredible Event Committee who have transformed the Spring Benefit into our most successful fundraiser of the year: Dina Colombo, Susan Fernandes, Ram Ganesan, George & Marcy Gubernikoff, Peggy & Robert Hordt, Cheryl Lawrence, Erin & Joe Lenehan, Stefanos J. Marcopoulos, Tynnetta E. McIntosh, Gil & Jenna Messer, Danielle Siano, and Andy Whitehouse.
For more information, visit our registration page or contact Jennifer Low at 516-237-6167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And just like that, we’re one step closer!
Smile Farms is a Finalist in the Rising Star category in The 7th Annual Long Island Imagine Awards. The Long Island Imagine Awards was created to offer formal acknowledgement to some of Long Island’s most effective and innovative nonprofit organizations.
“We are honored to be a Finalist in the 7th Annual Imagine awards and proud to be part of an extraordinary group of dedicated nonprofits working together to strengthen communities", said Jennifer Carpenter Low, Vice President of Smile Farms.
Finalists were chosen by Long Island business professionals during preliminary judging. Members of the Awards' Distinguished Judging Panel selected the Imagine Awards winners from among the Finalists during final judging.
Imagine Award winners will be announced at the awards gala at the Crest Hollow Country Club on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Sign up for the Smile Farms Newsletter to find out if we win!
In today’s economy, there are too many unique and qualified individuals who have difficulty finding a place where they are accepted for who they are and at the same time, a place they can be part of something bigger. This is human nature. Unfortunately, not every individual may be given this opportunity, even if that individual has a strong skillset and desirable talent. Individuals with developmental disabilities, a population that is often overlooked from an employment perspective, face this challenge every day, when there are many important contributions they can make in their local communities. Fortunately, Smile Farms is working with individuals with developmental disabilities, imparting pride and dignity that only employment can provide.
I am extremely humble and honored to be part of Smile Farms’ Planning Committee for the Annual Citi-Field Fundraiser. Smile Farms continuously and unconditionally fosters hope and instills the value of life into individuals with developmental disabilities. Founded in 2015 by the McCann Family (founders of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc.), Smile Farms provides employment opportunities in agricultural settings to individuals with developmental disabilities. These hard-working and unique individuals successfully grow a wide variety of produce and plants. The harvest is then sold in a variety of venues where the campuses are located, are used in partner organizations’ kitchens, and are donated to local nonprofits. Smile Farms, with a following that continues to increase in size, inspires its neighbors to support the consumption of these products. As a result, individuals with developmental disabilities are provided with meaningful work which they earn a paycheck for, and at the same time, provide resources to their local communities. At its core, one that I deeply advocate for, Smile Farms believes that communities ought to take care of each other and are strongest when every community member has a stake.
In just three years, Smile Farms expanded from one campus employing 30 individuals to seven campuses employing over 100 individuals, with the support of its partners. I can’t even begin to imagine how far reaching Smile Farms’ impact will be over the next three years. The sky is the limit!
On July 24th, 2019, I will proudly be amongst the Smile Farms Family for their 3rd Annual Citi-Field Fundraiser, home to the New York Mets. I hope you will join us and come learn more about Smile Farms and the phenomenal work they are doing. You can also stay up to date with this and other events by signing up for their e-newsletter: www.smilefarms.org/contact
Show your support, enjoy the game, and meet the amazing and dedicated management team, and the rest of the Smile Farms Family. It will be an enjoyable and unforgettable time you and your family won’t want to miss.
Jeffrey Scott, CPA, MBA
Member of Smile Farms Citi-Field Fundraiser
Cerini & Associates, LLP
When I learned that Riverpark Farm was going to be working with Smile Farms, my concerns were what you would expect from someone who has never worked with adults with developmental disabilities before. How is this person going to fit in with the team? How much extra attention will they need? How productive will they be? I understood that creating an opportunity for Kevin would be a positive thing for him, but I hadn’t realized the impact that his positivity would have on me.
Like most jobs, even urban farming can grow to be monotonous and tedious. With the demands of production goals and the uniformity of routine, it can be easy to overlook the excitement of germination, the color of the flowers, the sound of the birds, the smell of the rain, and the victory of the harvest. Kevin shines a light on all of those things.
Kevin’s biggest contribution to Smile Farms at Riverpark Farm has been his attitude. He shows up every day with a smile that always proves to be contagious. The mood amongst the entire farm staff lightens when Kevin shows up. He is always happy to get started with whatever task I put in front of him. More than anything, Kevin wants to know that he has done a good job. He is always eager to show off the work that he has done.
Kevin’s second biggest contribution is his sense of wonder. This also happens to be what distracts him the most. Kevin is often distracted by the very things that I wish I noticed more of throughout my day. He often calls me over to talk about the difference in color on the front and back of a butterflies wings, the amount of growth of a particular plant from the previous day, or how a particular herb smells different when it’s wet. If he isn’t calling me over to tell me these things, he is calling me over to answer his questions. He wants to know the gender of the insects, how long their lifespans are, and where they live. Why are these flowers yellow but those flowers are white?
Kevin's unique characteristics have proven to be very valuable. I believe that people work harder when they are happy and engaged with wonder at the task at hand and Kevin helps my entire staff achieve that mindset.
I look forward to having Kevin back at Smile Farms at Riverpark Farm in the spring and I am so grateful to be able to contribute in providing him with meaningful work.
Farm Manager, Smile Farms at Riverpark Farm
CREATING SMILES, ONE JOB AT A TIME