Incubator Highlight: Ability in Bloom

Article by Glen, Ability in Bloom Program Coordinator:

Ability in Bloom is a social enterprise program of Challenge Workforce Solutions where our goal is to provide jobs and work skills training for a dedicated group of adults and students with barriers to employment.  We employ Challenge participants who have had trouble finding work outside of Challenge or who are not ready to find work in the community.  At first we were growing flowers together recreationally, and decided to turn our work into something bigger.

We started growing flowers at the Ithaca Community Garden and still grow flowers there that we use for our awards dinner and luncheon. Two years ago we began growing at the Incubator Farm. This year, we have formed a business relationship with Take Your Pick Flower Farm in Lansing.

The Groundswell Incubator Farm has been a vital resource for helping us expand our production beyond a hobby level.  With the help of Groundwell staff and the trainings they have offered, we learned that we could successfully grow a product together as a team.  Working with Groundswell helped me learn, as the leader of the program, what my workers are truly capable of and how to help them utilize their abilities to produce a quality product.

Working with Linda Van Apeldoorn and her business, Take Your Pick Flower Farm, will enable some of the most successful trainees of my program to gain a more steady income from their work.  Linda is a wonderful person for us to work with.  She understands the needs of the individuals who work for Ability in Bloom and she has an intuitive understanding for how to set up work areas so that they are able to work effectively and efficiently.  Everyone who has worked at Take Your Pick Flower Farm loves it and wants to go back. I overheard Lauren, one of our trainees, telling her friends about the work she has been doing for Linda and I could hear the pride in her voice.  Our intention is to help Linda expand her production and make this a lucrative partnership.

The most noteworthy thing about working with the crew from Ability in Bloom is how much they generally love being outside and working with plants.  I say generally because there are some rainy, hot, or cold days that lower morale, but 9 days out of 10, they’d rather be at the farm or gardens, and I’ve noticed that crew members have fewer behavioral or motivational issues when in the gardens.  Personally, I much prefer working side by side with my workers as an equal in pursuit of working with nature to produce something beautiful.  On days when we are all in the groove and have a good routine down, it can be magical.

One of the people I developed Ability in Bloom to employ is Lillian.  Lillian ran her own catering business and is an experienced floral artist.  One of my favorite things about this work is when we bring our harvest to Lillian and seeing the delight she takes in working with all of the different flowers and greens.  It’s almost as if we are growing them just for her.  Lillian and Linda Van Apeldoorn hit it off magnificently when they worked together to make arrangements for Challenge’s awards dinner back in May.  I am hopeful that this will lead to more work for Lillian in the future doing what she truly loves.

One of the main things I have learned from doing Ability in Bloom for two years is that everyone can have their place in a productive team if the conditions are set up well and the motivation is there.  Getting their hands in the soil and working with living plants motivates the trainees of Ability in Bloom and we have achieved things together I never thought possible.

Although Ability in Bloom is not selling directly to the public this year, you can support us by purchasing flowers from Take Your Pick Flower Farm.  Our labor and flowers go hand in hand with Linda’s work so when you buy a CSA share or wedding and event arrangements from Take Your Pick, you are providing paying work for the trainees of Ability in Bloom.  Follow us on facebook and visit our website for updates.
-Glen Robertson,
Ability in Bloom Coordinator,
Challenge Workforce Solutions

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