People

This Famous CEO Is “Growing People” In His Greenhouse

April 21, 2016Posted by Helaina Hovitz

In the U.S. alone, 80% of developmentally disabled adults are unemployed, creating barriers not only to their financial independence but overall quality of life, including the way they see themselves and experience the world around them.

For 34 of those special individuals, a single farm offers the promise of a steady paycheck, a purpose in life, and the chance to grow a lot more than daffodils.

Known as “Smile Farms” the organization is the philanthropic arm—or rather, green thumb—of 1-800-Flowers CEO and Founder Jim McCann’s global, 40-year-old empire., which has itself grown to acquire other companies like Harry and David

Sufficient to say, the McCann family—all of whom are involved with the nonprofit to some extent—have the bandwidth to grow more than just millions of plants and flowers.

They have the means to “grow people” by giving them the chance to contribute to their community, socialize with one another, and achieve financial independence.

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One of those Smile Farmers is, in fact, McCann’s younger brother, Kevin. When Kevin aged out of the program that took care of him until he was 18, he “lived his life,” according to his older brother, but not with much purpose.

Now, he spends his days with 33 other farmers working at one of the nonprofit’s 17 greenhouses, which preside over a five-acre farm in Moriches, New York. There, Kevin and his coworkers grow flowers, plants and micro-greens that they sell to local florists and restaurants in the area.

The majority of the farmers, including Kevin, live in Independent Group Homes and apartments, and while they are more than capable of working at other establishments within their own communities, it’s nearly impossible for them to find jobs.

“Here, they feel good because they can support themselves, they learn so much and look forward to coming in every day,” McCann said. “They get to contribute to society, and that really means something to them.”

At the organization’s annual spring dinner, parents often remark about what a positive difference they’ve seen in their own child, who previously had nothing to do but watch TV, alone and miserable.

In the two years since Smile Farms began operating as an official nonprofit, people all over the country have been contacting McCann to inquire about collaborating to develop facilities in their own greenhouses or on their extra plots of land.

The operation is indeed scalable, if assisted living facilities and other programs that help adults with special needs are able to successfully team up with people who have some land to spare.

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However, if you’re not a “rural guru,” McCann suggests hiring just one person with special needs at whatever business you may operate—with the right guidance in place, of course. That one action has potential for tremendous impact.

“The rewards are great not only for that individual person, but for the moral of everyone in the workplace,” he said. “Customers, too, will notice and appreciate what you’re doing, even if they don’t say anything directly.”

Ultimately, McCann hopes that Smile Farms can be for 1800-Flowers what Ronald McDonald Houses have become for the fast food chain.

A promise to grow two new Smile Farms facilities by the end of this calendar year is definitely a solid start.

 

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