Blue color background with a person holding a tablet device

Cultivating a Better Planet for People With Disabilities

Cultivating a Better Planet for People With Disabilities

 A Community Employment Grant supports Arthur & Friends Greenhouse Project, which is training young adults with physical disabilities to work in agribusiness. (

September 17, 2009 - Dedicated to 'cultivating a better planet', Arthur & Friends Greenhouse Project fulfills a dual mission—providing fresh, healthful produce for the community and meaningful work for people with physical disabilities. Founded by Wendie Blanchard, Arthur & Friends is an agribusiness program in Sussex County that trains people with disabilities to grow and market organic lettuce, leafy vegetables, plants and herbs that are grown hydroponically. Arthur & Friends aims to raise the employment rate among people with disabilities by serving as the model for similar vocational projects throughout the country. (View a documentary about Arthur & Friends by Michael E. Cheski)

Arthur & Friends is a four-level program leading to employment at farms, garden centers, and greenhouses, according to Blanchard. "Our trainees are "friends", she explained, "people with significant physical disabilities who were considered unemployable and often segregated in institutions and day activity programs." Friends spend three months at each level. First, they learn how to plant and care for salad produce, which is sold to local restaurants. Then they move onto planting, caring for, harvesting and selling greenhouse-grown vegetables, herbs and plants on a retail level. At the third level, friends sell organically grown plants via the Internet, which requires filling orders, shipping, billing, and customer service. At the fourth level, friends create items such as terrariums, note cards, and planters for sale locally and through retail outlets and the internet. Involvement in the community is an important part of Arthur & Friends, Blanchard emphasized. Friends gain social skills and experience while breaking down public misconceptions about people with disabilities.

More than 70 people with disabilities have learned valuable business and social skills at Arthur & Friends. Most graduates work for local businesses or as trainers and supervisors at Arthur & Friends. Two have enrolled at Sussex Community College—one woman, disabled by a stroke at age 22, is studying marketing in order to better promote the message of Arthur & Friends; another, with physical disabilities and partial deafness, plans to teach sign language. "Both were largely confined to their homes before the program," Blanchard said. "Now," she said proudly, "with their new-found confidence and skills, they are ready to take on the world!"

Blanchard is pleased by the success of Arthur & Friends, but not surprised. People with disabilities want what we all want—education, rewarding work, respect from the community—and that's what Arthur & Friends offers. Clearly, this project is filling a need--more than 50 people are on the waiting list for trainee spots.

Arthur & Friends is receiving broader recognition. This innovative Greenhouse Project recently received a "Local Heroes" award from EdibleJersey magazine for promoting locally grown produce and is featured in a new documentary on opportunities in green business for people with disabilities. Blanchard places the publicity in perspective: "We measure our success by self-determination, cooperation, the use of newly acquired skills, follow-through, the ability to rise above adversity, and by how people's lives have been changed for the better. With the help of Kessler Foundation, we are indeed 'cultivating a better planet!'"