Greens Do Good
Join Us at the REED Foundation for Autism Golf Classic honoring Edgewood Country Club Executive Chef Anthony Villanueva
Help Us Support & Employ Individuals With Autism
The daily structure and personal fulfillment of a job well done is an integral part of life—one that is just as essential for individuals with autism as it is for any other adult. Yet, nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. Funds raised from REED’s Golf Classic will provide crucial vocational training and meaningful employment opportunities to teens and adults with autism.
Register to attend or sponsor the Golf Classic held on Monday, July 19, 2021, at Edgewood Country Club in River Vale, NJ. Edgewood’s 18-hole golf course consistently achieves the highest ranking in the annual “Best of Bergen” competition is due in part to their reputation for tournament-quality conditions maintained year-round. The layout is defined by panoramic fairways, challenging bunkers and water hazards, and manicured greens that roll consistently true and fast. This is a golf experience that is meant to be…experienced.
The REED Foundation for Autism Golf Classic will feature four-person teams. Shot gun start scheduled for 1 pm. Can’t make it for golf? Join us for dinner.
Greens Do Good and Finn Ban, our Workforce Development Program intern, were recently featured in NJ Spotlight News
REED Next is a nonprofit that provides assistance to adults on the autism spectrum. One of its latest initiatives is Greens Do Good, a vertical hydroponic farm in Hackensack.
“Greens Do Good launched in 2019 and we really understood that there was a huge need to provide employment opportunities for adults with autism and training opportunities for teens with autism to gain valuable work skills,” said Chantelle Walker, CEO of the REED Foundation for Autism.
Greens Do Good recently established its hydroponic farm in Hackensack, NJ, bringing sustainably grown produce to the local community. However, eco-conscious harvesting isn’t all that they’re known for. Their “Produce with Purpose” mission provides autistic adults with employment opportunities. In doing so, Greens Do Good is slowly expanding the possibilities within agriculture.
When speaking with Jen Faust, the director of operations, she emphasized the goal for the farm is inherently layered. The team is looking to transform local sources for produce, offering a healthier and socially-conscious food supply. Despite their 2019 opening, the farm’s objectives are quite ambitious, although not impossible. To increase the quantity of healthy and fresh foods available at local pantries.
In partnering with Bergen County Food Security Task Force, the farm can work toward its goal of bringing fresh goods to families in need. The indoor, four-season farm sits in a warehouse of an urban environment. This allows for green-collar jobs that are not available outside the typical rural setting. I was able to speak with Faust to learn more about the farm and the faces behind the project.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about the farm and why you chose Hackensack for the location?
Greens Do Good is an indoor, hydroponic, vertical farm located in the heart of Hackensack, employing and supporting individuals with autism. Essentially, we have created a farm in a warehouse in the middle of a very urban environment. This unique model provides green-collar jobs that would be otherwise unavailable outside of a rural setting.
The Greens Do Good farming method allows for four-season growing across a smaller footprint than most traditional farms. It’s using less water and energy and minimizing the impact on the environment. Each day brings a new crop of basil, baby kale, butterhead lettuce, and over 20 varieties of microgreens—all hand-picked and packed at the height of freshness, then sold to local restaurants, country clubs, supermarkets, food service providers, and through home delivery.
2. What inspired your “Produce with Purpose” mission?
One of the leading issues for adults with autism is the lack of employment opportunities. In fact, nearly half of all 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. The daily structure and personal fulfillment of a job well done is an integral part of life—one that is just as essential for individuals with autism as it is for any other adult. At the farm, teens and adults with autism work alongside our farmers to help seed, plant, water and harvest the produce. Greens Do Good provides these individuals the opportunity to work alongside our farmers so that they can develop essential skills, achieve greater independence, and participate meaningfully in their communities.
3. What’s the connection, if any, between autism and agriculture?
The repetition in farming requires highly focused, reliable, and detail-oriented workers, which makes individuals with autism so well-suited to work at the farm. Individuals with autism often have the ability to concentrate on one task for long periods of time without getting distracted. Task completion is very important and that makes them very persistent workers. They are comfortable with repetitive tasks that others may find tedious. Individuals with autism are also inclined to diligently follow schedules, pay close attention to detail, and have a keen ability to identify errors that other people may overlook.
The adults we employ and teens in our workforce development program work with our Farm Manager and Farm Technicians in a variety of roles across the farm including seeding, planting, harvesting, and packaging products. Each individual can take on responsibilities that suit their inclination and ability—working at a pace that is tailored to their needs so they can do it successfully and independently.
4. How has local support helped to kick start your business?
We are very fortunate to have the support of the local community and individuals like Anthony Villanueva, executive chef of Edgewood Country Club. Villanueva began getting weekly deliveries soon after the farm opened its doors in early 2019—making him the first Chef-Partner of Greens Do Good.
We have since caught the attention of other individuals who support our mission, including Chef Chris Migton from Chez Catherine in Westfield, NJ. Chef Migton not only purchases our produce for her restaurant menus but she opens her doors and serves as a Greens Do Good pick-up location for customers in her community.
We are also fortunate to have received a grant from Someone Else’s Child (SEC), which will support our efforts to provide crucial vocational training and meaningful employment opportunities for teens and adults with autism. SEC is committed to serving underrepresented children and teens by sponsoring programs and initiatives to support and empower their lives. With an emphasis on education, literacy, children with disabilities and economic justice, SEC looks to break the cycle of inequality through innovative approaches that offer meaningful opportunities for vulnerable children and teens.
5. What does the future look like for you guys?
We have recently launched a pilot program to offer vocational training to teens with autism. Social distancing required by the pandemic has kept this workforce development program small to this point. It currently serves Ridgewood High School transition students and REED Academy’s SLE students. We are now opening our doors to additional districts and volunteers who are interested in gaining agricultural experience.
The small, 3,000-square-foot warehouse at the end of Oak Street in Hackensack is filled with big ideas. It houses Greens Do Good, a vertical hydroponic farm where greens such as kale, basil and cilantro are planted, cared for and harvested by adults on the autism spectrum.
“We are growing really healthy fresh produce in a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly way,” said Director of Operations Jennifer Faust.
The program was developed out of REED Next, which offers therapy to adults with autism.
“We use less water, less energy; we have a smaller carbon footprint and we are trying to educate the community on the importance of eating local and knowing where your food comes from. That is one of the things we are doing. The second thing is that we are employing, supporting and training adults with autism,” Faust said.
The vertical farm serves as training that can lead to employment opportunities for people who often don’t have many options after they “age out” of education programs at 21, said the REED staff. Ridgewood’s Peter Ban and his wife, Jennie Ban, agree. They worried about the day their son Finnigan, who is autistic, would “graduate to the couch,” Peter Ban said.
Finnigan is smart. He understands everything that is said, but has “a hard time speaking, so he has a hard time communicating with people,” said Jennie Ban. “When you ask him a question, it takes him a very long time to answer.”
The parents worried that the long sentences that come from Finnigan’s mouth, and tend to confuse some, would stop him from making his way in the world.
“At 20 years old he sees the other kids going off to college and getting jobs, and he wants to do that. Schools have great programs, but then what? The employment level of people with special needs is exceptionally low. That is hard on parents,” Peter Ban said.
Disability advocates call it “falling off a cliff” when the money tied to special education ends with the responsibilities of local school districts once a student turns 21.
“But they are just as impaired at 21 as they were at 20,” Faust said. “More than half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.”
When compared with other disabilities, “young adults with autism had the lowest rate of employment,” stated a report by Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
“REED Academy was founded in 2003 by parents who could not find appropriate education for their toddlers,” Faust said. “Fast-forward to 2016 and that same group of parents realized that their now-young-adult children were about to age out and came to us and said, ‘What do we do next?’ That’s when we created REED Next. We felt a real obligation to these parents to continue the life skills, safety skills and vocational training that we had provided to them up until they were 21,” she said.
“Addressing the Needs of Adolescents and Adults with Autism: A Crisis on the Horizon,” a paper by Peter Gerhardt and Ilene Lainer, put it this way: The need for employment and day programs “far” exceeds the available resources, “leaving a generation of individuals with autism and their families in programmatic, financial, and personal limbo.”
Greens Do Good was founded in 2019.
The repetition farming requires works well with applied behavior analysis, or ABA, therapy, which is used at all REED programs, including Greens Do Good. The farm manager is also trained in ABA therapy.
From planting to harvesting, tasks are broken down into smaller steps and found on checklists throughout the warehouse. Finnigan is thriving, his parents said.
“We call him Farmer Finn. It gives him a sense of pride and hope that these kids don’t always get,” Peter Ban said.
Finnigan has a new purpose. He’s found a side of himself no one knew he had. It might even lead to a career. The program is open to REED Academy students and special needs students at Ridgewood High School. Plans to open up opportunities to other high schools are in the works as well, Faust said.
Social distancing required by the pandemic has kept the program small to this point. It currently employs five Ridgewood High School students and three adults with autism. More students will be coming from REED Academy in May.
Still, a lot is happening at the site. From scallions to wasabi, greens are available for home delivery and wholesale. Greens Do Good has also joined forces with the Bergen County Food Security Task Force to donate fresh food to local food pantries monthly.
Peter Ban remembered what it felt like to see his son working in the warehouse.
“I went to see him after he had been there for a while, so he had learned certain skills and the sense of pride that he had showing me what he could do, and that that could be his job,” he said. “I think they could take these processes that they have developed and expand them into a larger footprint. If a regional or national grocery store chain said, ‘Hey, we want to acquire scallions,’ these guys could do that. Think of all the jobs they could create.”
There are about 127,000 state residents with autism, said Suzanne Buchanan, executive director of Autism New Jersey.
One in 54 children in the United States, or 1.85%, was identified with autism spectrum disorder in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the nation, with 1 in 32 children, or 3.1%, CDC reports show. New Jersey’s prevalence continues to exceed and outpace other states.
This article is by Gene Myers, a local reporter for NorthJersey.com.
The daily structure and personal fulfillment of a job well done is an integral part of life—one that is just as essential for individuals with autism as it is for any other adult. Yet, nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. A grant from Someone Else’s Child will support our efforts to provide crucial vocational training and meaningful employment opportunities for teens and adults with autism.
Someone Else’s Child (SEC) is committed to serving underrepresented children and teens by sponsoring programs and initiatives to support and empower their lives. Working throughout the USA and in Africa, SEC believes that it is the responsibility of a community to ensure the well-being and future success of every child. With an emphasis on education, literacy, children with disabilities and economic justice, SEC looks to break the cycle of inequality through innovative approaches that offer meaningful opportunities for vulnerable children and teens.
“We are so thankful to receive this grant from Someone Else’s Child and the recognition of the work we’re doing to provide job training and valuable experiences for individuals with autism,” explains Chantelle Walker, CEO, REED Autism Services. “Our goal is to assist students in furthering their education, help them to develop essential skills, and ease the transition between high school and employment.”
The Greens Do Good farming method allows for four-season growing across a smaller footprint than most traditional farms, using less water and energy and minimizing the impact on the environment. Each day brings a new crop of basil, baby kale, butterhead lettuce, and over 20 varieties of microgreens—all hand-picked and packed at the height of freshness, then sold to local restaurants, country clubs, supermarkets, food service providers, and through home delivery.
Greens Do Good is a wholly owned subsidiary of REED Next.
Learn more at greensdogood.com.
GREENS DO GOOD PARTNERS WITH THE BERGEN COUNTY FOOD SECURITY TASK FORCE TO PROVIDE SURPLUS PRODUCE TO SUPPORT FAMILIES IN NEED
Contact: Storm Wyche, Deputy Director of Communications and Policy
Bergen County Board of Commissioners
Phone: 201.336.6537 Mobile: 862.202.2859
Hackensack, NJ — Greens Do Good, a four-season hydroponic vertical farm in Hackensack, NJ part of Reed Next, and the Bergen County Food Security Task Force have formed a partnership to ensure Bergen County residents have access to healthy food options during the pandemic and beyond.
Yesterday marked the first of a recurring monthly donation from Greens Do Good, an organization that employs adults with autism, of 160 heads of fresh lettuce to the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry at the Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack. The food pantry serves approximately 150 families on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month.
This donation is a result of a 2021 initiative of the Bergen County Food Security Task Force, which is working to increase the quantity of healthy and fresh foods available at local food pantries. In July 2020, Commissioner Tracy Zur and the County Executive Jim Tedesco’s Office, along with leadership from local nonprofits and key representatives from across the county who manage food pantries and local meal distribution efforts daily, launched the Bergen County Food Security Task Force. The Task Force is charged with devising new solutions to continuously address the levels of food insecurity across Bergen County and keep local pantries and food distribution efforts stocked.
“We are thrilled that we can support the critical work being done by the Bergen County Food Security Task Force,” says Director of Operations, Jennifer Faust of Greens Do Good. “Our mission is to transform the way our local community sources healthy produce by providing the freshest ingredients in a sustainable and socially responsible way,” adds Lisa Goldstein, Director of Sales.
Although Bergen County has over 80 pantries and emergency food providers across the county, most were previously unable to distribute perishable items, meaning most struggling families have been living off nonperishables high in starches, sodium, and sugar. After a donation of refrigerators and freezers from the County of Bergen, many pantries are now equipped to accept fresh donations. “Greens Do Good’s recurring donation of fresh lettuce to the Saint Vincent de Paul Food Pantry will have a tremendous impact on the families who rely on donated food every week” said Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Tracy Silna Zur. “This is an important step in bringing fresh, nutritious foods into our pantries to avoid inadvertently causing health problems such as diabetes and hypertension for the next generation.”
Adds Zur, “Bergen County is seeing a 71% increase in food insecurity, meaning that over 103,000 people in Bergen County do not know where their next meal is coming from. We all must join the fight against food insecurity, and do what we can to provide nutritious foods to our neighbors in need.”
For more information about the Food Security Task Force, co.bergen.nj.us/foodsecurity or email BCFoodTaskForce2020@gmail.com.
REED Next is a registered 501c3 supporting individuals with autism 21 and older. Greens Do Good is funded in part by a grant from the Special Child Health and Austism Registry, New Jersey Department of Health. For more information, go to GreensdoGood.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The School Transition and Employment Program for Student Success (STEPSS), a new 18- to 21-yearold transition program offered by Ridgewood Public Schools, has partnered with Greens Do Good, a local hydroponic farm, for their first community internship experience. Through this collaboration, STEPSS students help maintain and organize crops, package products, and take inventory of seeds, but more importantly they are developing life skills and hands-on experience that will lay the foundation for future independence.
Greens Do Good, located in Hackensack, not only aims to grow healthy produce in a sustainable and socially responsible way, but they also donate 100 percent of their proceeds to REED Next, a nonprofit organization supporting adults with autism. Peter Ban, a parent who has known staff at the REED Foundation for some time, made the introduction that established this partnership with Greens Do Good.
What makes the experience at Greens Do Good so unique is that our students are working alongside the staff and performing the same duties that contribute to the operation of the farm. It is also a refreshing option for students who have an interest in agriculture. The farm manager has years of ABA experience as a one-to-one instructor at REED Academy, and the other farm techs are products of our robust internship with Ramapo College.
“We are passionate about more than just growing high quality produce,” said Jen Faust, director of communications at Greens Do Good. “We are a diverse, supportive, urban environment providing adults with autism a sense of purpose, paid employment, and meaningful participation in the community.”
The goal of STEPSS is to prepare students who have met state graduation requirements with the necessary skills and support that will enable them to accomplish personal goals, obtain employment, and live independently as active members of their community. The program has an individualized instructional component which includes academic support, as well as life skills and career readiness. The community based instruction model provides students with the tools to manage real life settings and situations. The final component is the internship where students engage in experiential learning in a work setting, preparing them to transition to employment and independence.
“Internships educate both the students and their community. When people develop relationships with our students and see their potential, they become advocates and natural supports. This impacts the culture and creates opportunities for individuals with special needs,” said Michael Kilcullen, transition coordinator.
Establishing relationships with organizations that share our vision requires a collaborative effort. Community connections, such as the one with Greens Do Good, are mutually beneficial, and STEPSS looks forward to building lasting partnerships that will help the students successfully transition into adulthood. For more information about STEPSS, contact Michael Kilcullen, transition coordinator at mkilcullen@ ridgewood.k12.nj.us.
STEPSS students help maintain and organize crops, package products, and take inventory of seeds, but more importantly they are developing life skills and hands-on experiences. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLENE LABENDA
Greens Do Good provides Structured Learning Experiences (SLE) for teens and young adults to explore and learn about various jobs
One of the leading issues facing adults with autism is the lack of employment options. In fact, nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.
With the right support, these adults can become valued workers and contributing members of their community. Greens Do Good, a hydroponic, vertical farm, in Hackensack, NJ, is doing its part to help change that.
The “Greens Work” job sampling program will allow teens and young adults with autism to intern at the farm and engage in a variety of roles related to hydroponic farming including maintenance and cleaning, seeding, planting, harvesting, and packaging. The opportunity is available to local school districts with autism related programs, as well as private schools serving individuals with autism. The Greens Do Good program aligns with the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.
“Greens Do Good opens up a unique vocational opportunity outside of traditional SLE programs, providing ‘green collar’ job training and valuable experiences for individuals with autism,” explains Chantelle Walker. “Our goal is to assist students in furthering their education, help them to develop essential skills, and ease the transition between high school and employment.”
The Green Greens Do Good farming method allows for four-season growing across a smaller footprint than most traditional farms, using less water and energy and minimizing the impact to the environment. Each day brings a new crop of basil, baby kale, butterhead lettuce, and over 20 varieties of microgreens—hand-picked and packed at the height of freshness, then sold to local restaurants, country clubs, supermarkets, food service providers, and through home delivery.
To learn more about Greens Do Good and the “Greens Work” program, please contact Jen Faust at email@example.com.