Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. Greens Do Good, a hydroponic, vertical farm in Hackensack, NJ, is doing its part to help change that.
“We have an easily reproducible concept that creates a pipeline of qualified, talented, and focused employees for controlled environment agriculture,” says Jennifer Faust, Operations Director at Greens Do Good.
Greens Do Good is driven by the social mission of producing local food while providing meaningful job training and employment opportunities for individuals 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.
“Since launching in early 2021, the program has been met with high demand. We currently see 50 participants from 10 districts and/or private schools per semester. Given the space limitations of the farm, the program is now curating a waitlist,” says Jennifer.
Greens Do Good is part of the REED Autism Services family of programs that aims to support individuals with autism and help them thrive throughout their lives. Greens Do Good provides each person with the opportunity to perform tasks that match their interests and abilities, whether that be seeding, harvesting, packaging, and delivery.
“With the anticipated growth of the global hydroponics market approaching 22.5% through 2025, Greens Do Good provides a unique opportunity for job training within an expanding industry,” says Chantelle Walker, Chief Executive Officer of REED Autism Services.
Delivering sustainable produce through various distribution channels
As Lisa Goldstein, Sales Director, explains, Greens Do Good has multiple distribution channels that include three ShopRite locations within a 20-mile vicinity, numerous restaurants and country clubs, direct-to-consumer sales, and partner organizations like Greater Bergen Community Action (GBCA), which works to give young children a head start. Through GBCA and Greens Do Good, children learn about the benefits of eating healthy.
In a 3,300-square-foot indoor farm, Greens Do Good produces approximately 2,400 units of basil, more than 1,000 heads of lettuce, 40-50 lbs of baby arugula, kale, and spring mix, plus 40-50 lbs of microgreens per month.
According to farm technician Tyler Hall, the process begins by seeding in either coir-based IHORT or Rockwool propagation cubes, which are placed in a dark rack for 2-3 days until the seeds begin to sprout. The seedlings are then transplanted into an LED light tower and grown there until they produce their first true leaves. Finally, the seedlings are transplanted into foam boards and grown there until harvest.
“We are not just socially conscious but also environmentally focused. We pay close attention to nutrient usage and water consumption, and whenever possible, we reuse and recycle all of our growing boards. We’re controlling all of the 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 impending collaboration with Ramapo College of New Jersey and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA). Through this collaboration, Greens Do Good will expand its farms to the Meadowlands Environment Center, which is the property of the NJSEA, and will create a higher education program for individuals with autism in collaboration with Ramapo College.
“We are going to bypass the typical college entrance qualifications and create a system where individuals with autism can take higher education courses in sustainability, earth science, and biology. They will gain practical experience at the farm and a graduate certificate upon completion,” says Jennifer, who also says that the program could be live as early as January 2023.