Saturday, September 19, 2009

Greenhouse grows opportunities for people with disabilities

On Pinkney Road in Ithaca, a greenhouse formerly used for research now serves as a hydroponics facility full of arugula, baby pac choi, and other fresh greens.  Finger Lakes Fresh, a division of Challenge Industries, offers employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

The folks at Challenge Industries told me about one person who tends the "ocean of green" that is the greenhouse.  Here's what they said:

"Mary Ann Knispell takes great pride and a definite sense of ownership in the products she grows. 'I love my job!' she says. 'I love making Boston and Romaine lettuce at the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a very nice place to work.' Mary Ann is one of the crew members who work on a variety of tasks on a rotating schedule in order to keep operations flowing smoothly at the greenhouse. 

"'Mary Ann’s standards for her work are very high, and she’s so well liked by everyone,' says Challenge staff member Jake McNamera. Jake recently helped conduct food safety trainings at the greenhouse in preparation for an FDA audit. When the facility passed the inspection with flying colors, the FDA inspector declaring the greenhouse 'the best operation we have audited,' Mary Ann and the rest of the crew were thrilled and proud of their high standards and exceptional product."

Finger Lakes Fresh supplies greens across the northeast and reports annual revenues of more than $600,000.

Challenge intends to collaborate with the Ithaca Waste Water Treatment Facility and two local dairy farms to develop additional greenhouses utilizing renewable energy harnessed through processing waste biogas.

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