A new program to help people with disabilities and other employment barriers celebrated a major step forward Thursday with the start of construction of its first greenhouse.
The program, called Growing Opportunities, will provide job training useful for seeking employment in the growing local foods movement. Just as important, it will emphasize much-needed soft skills that are crucial to success in any job.
The 2,880 square foot greenhouse is being constructed by a local builder, Jim Wright-Kaiser, at Stone Belt on land owned by Indiana University. The greenhouse will be a hands-on learning environment for participants to practice their skills in a fully functioning greenhouse business – an urban farm growing produce year-round using hydroponics, which involves growing plants in water without soil.
In addition to training in the greenhouse, participants will receive classroom training and therapeutic benefits of gardening in a 200-hour course lasting 20 weeks. Growing Opportunities plans to offer two classes per year with 10 participants each at its first greenhouse.
Produce from the greenhouse will be sold to local restaurants, grocers and the public. Revenue from the produce sales will be reinvested into the program. Based on financial projections, Growing Opportunities anticipates becoming financially self-supporting once it is operating three greenhouses.
The City of Bloomington, Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Old National Bank Foundation and Perry Township have awarded grants to launch Growing Opportunities and its greenhouses.
South Central Community Action Program (SCCAP) is still seeking additional funding for Growing Opportunities second and third greenhouses to be located on the former Thomson manufacturing site in Bloomington, which is owned by the Monroe County Commissioners.
SCCAP started development of Growing Opportunities more than two years ago based on a successful project called Arthur & Friends at a community action agency in northern New Jersey.
“This project is an exciting one for us in adding a different and much-needed opportunity to help people with low incomes become more financially self-sufficient and to transform their lives through the satisfaction that comes with developing skills and finding work where you are valued and productive,” SCCAP Executive Director Todd Lare said. “I cannot say enough about how much we appreciate our partners who have helped us get to this point. It has been challenging to find land and enough funding to get this greenhouse project off the ground. One of the exciting and innovative aspects of Growing Opportunities is that once it is fully up and running, it will help local people in poverty year after year without requiring ongoing government or philanthropic funding.
“To make that happen, Growing Opportunities needs the community and our partners to keep supporting this project as we seek the rest of the funds necessary to build the second and third greenhouses. So many people and organizations have been wonderful in recognizing the value this project will have in the lives of local residents and we deeply appreciate it.”