Smile Farms was founded in 2015 by Jim and Chris McCann of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. in partnership with Independent Group Home Living Program (IGHL) which serves people with intellectual disabilities. The initiative was in response to a request from IGHL’s CEO, who was having difficulty finding jobs for IGHL residents. Since then, Smile Farms has blossomed from a single greenhouse operation to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with 8 campuses across Long Island and New York City – and counting.
Since its inception, I have served as a member of the Board of Directors and witnessed perhaps the most rewarding and inspiring organization of all that I've seen over these many years. Employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities are limited by the number of available good-fitting jobs and perhaps even more by a stigma associated with hiring people with disabilities. Even where jobs are available, many employers lack the knowledge that would help them recruit, onboard, and support ongoing employment for these men and women. Initiatives like Smile Farms show how jobs for this population can be successfully created and sustained, with real benefits for the employer.
Smile Farms partners with non-and for-profit organizations to develop agricultural campuses that meet community needs, while motivating individuals, businesses, and civic organizations. Each campus generates sustainable revenue to fund our partners’ indispensable services. Employment gives individuals with developmental disabilities a meaningful occupation, a paycheck, and the opportunity to master new skills, interact with many people outside their families, and increase their self-esteem and confidence. Moreover, families like the McCanns with a differently abled sibling gain peace of mind seeing their loved one thriving at work while ensuring greater opportunities to live as independently as possible.
Smile Farms impacts the larger Long Island community, too, through the fresh produce and resources for community health that we provide to the Smile Farms Mobile Farmers Market, the only Mobile Market on Long Island enrolled in the NYS Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. In 2019, the market served 594 high needs residents of Suffolk and Nassau counties, many of whom used vouchers and Fresh Connect coupons to purchase fresh produce.
Smile Farms continues to grow opportunities through new partnerships and innovations. In 2019, the Smile Farms at League Education & Treatment Center (LETC) campus in Brooklyn launched Smile Farms' first preserved food product for sale. With the help of Brooklyn Grange, Smile Farmers grew and harvested 337 pounds of hot and sweet peppers that resulted in the production of 1,000 bottles of red and green hot sauce. All revenue from hot sauce sales is funneled back into programming for individuals with disabilities.
In these unprecedented times and despite the challenges nonprofits face, I am continually impressed by the organization’s Board and staff leadership. The continuity of day-to-day business operations during a period of time when normal facilities and infrastructure have been compromised is a tribute to the organization’s unflappable commitment to achieve its mission. It is also an extension of the signature philanthropic partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc., sharing in the company's vision to inspire more human expression, connection, and celebration.
I highly recommend that anyone comparing the good work being done by nonprofits spend time in the presence of the Smile Farms Farmers who are the real beneficiaries. I deeply believe doing so would convince anyone of the life-changing work of Smile Farms. The happy faces of Farmers who feel like productive members of society -- sometimes for the first time in their lives -- tells the whole story. That is all it would take, I believe, to convince anyone just how GREAT a non-profit can be.
Alec J. McAuley