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Green Jobs in the Garden State

February 9th, 2011 marked the 1-year anniversary of the launch of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to reduce childhood obesity through encouraging healthier eating habits and regular exercise. Throughout the past year we have seen how seemingly-small modifications can add up to make a big difference in our everyday lives, as well as the lives of those around us. Every day, Americans are donning the hat of community organizer and doing their part to promote positive change in their communities, be it through education, entrepreneurship/job creation, health awareness, or vocational rehabilitation efforts.

One organization in particular is taking on all of the above. The Arthur and Friends Greenhouse Project of New Jersey is helping pave the way for social innovation and entrepreneurship in the disability community.

Through collaborative partnerships with several local organizations, the Kessler Foundation, and the use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Stimulus Funds, Arthur and Friends’ Greenhouses meld innovation with community integration by training and employing individuals with disabilities and veterans to grow and sell fresh produce in an integrated employment setting. The Arthur and Friends mission is to develop integrated employment opportunities in Agribusiness "including self-employment and entrepreneurship." And that is precisely what they have been doing since the initial development of their replicable business model in 2008.

Through a series of training programs, the employees learn about specialized agri-business, retail sales, and online business development. The integrated work environment allows the employees with disabilities to become economically self-sufficient and “occupationally marketable” should they ever decide to seek employment with another business organization or start their own. In addition to the myriad of occupational skills gained in the training programs, Arthur and Friends offers its associates with disabilities an opportunity to gain fuller access and participation in their communities in a sustainable way.

All of the produce grown in the greenhouses is sold to local restaurants, schools, and the surrounding communities, affording them greater access to nutritious food choices that may not otherwise be available to them. In doing so, Arthur and Friends are doing their part to reduce the number of “food deserts” in their communities! (Food deserts are areas in industrialized countries with limited access to fresh, healthy food.) Let’s Move!, in partnership with the USDA, has affirmed a strong commitment to reducing the number of food deserts in America in an effort to curb childhood obesity and make healthy food choices more accessible to all Americans. The Greenhouse Project is answering that call to action and has been making great strides to impact their community for the better. The Arthur and Friends Greenhouse Project is a shining example of innovative sustainability being a viable and cost-efficient option for food production locally.

The inspiration derived from their innovative union of entrepreneurship, community integration, and hope stretch far past the boundaries of state lines. Arthur and Friends’ grassroots community building efforts serve to reinforce the Obama Administration’s emphasis on positive change starting at the local level. The Greenhouse Project is winning the future---and the hearts and minds (and well-being) of Americans everywhere along the way.