Rural Missouri - June 2017 - 24
Maryville facility helps those with
disabilities integrate into community
Lettuce Dream in Maryville is a facility that helps people with disabilities learn job skills as well as provide northwest Missouri with fresh, locally grown vegetables.
by Paul Newton | firstname.lastname@example.org
he greenhouse on the east side of Maryville is a
hub of activity. Volunteers move rows of transplanted greens. Interns work diligently seeding
tiny horticubes to start the growing process.
Board members stop by to help deliver the fresh
produce to local restaurants and grocery stores.
Lettuce Dream is a nonproﬁt that serves northwest Missouri by giving people with disabilities age
18 to 35 a place to learn job skills and transition
into competitive employment while also providing
the residents of Nodaway County and the surrounding area with fresh, locally grown greens and herbs.
Diane Francis and the late Sandy White hatched
the idea more than ﬁve years ago when talking with
each other about the connections each of their special-needs children had at school.
"Other parents and children always expressed
thanks and gratitude for having our children in
their classes and interacting with them," says
Diane, who serves as the president of the board for
Lettuce Dream. "We could never ﬁgure that out, and
it was something neither of us expected."
Knowing there was a social service gap for people with special needs after high school, the planning for "something" started. Initially modeled after
a farm in Iowa, Lettuce Dream has evolved into a
"We're trying to ﬁll that gap," Diane says. "We
want to develop workplace skills and eventually
have our interns integrated into a competitive work
environment. The percentages are very low, but we
need to work as a society to see what can be done.
Staying at home all day and not being engaged can't
be an option."
A 13-person board of directors was formed by
community members of various backgrounds giving
the board a diverse range of expertise. A business
plan was drafted and land near the intersection of
Highways 71 and 46 was donated to Lettuce Dream.
The 5,400-square-foot greenhouse was completed in 2016 and houses more than 7,500 individual
grow sites. Interns gaining those much needed competitive job skills are assisted by community volunteers in all aspects of growing the fresh produce.
Although it required more capital up front, they
chose to have a hydroponic greenhouse. "It was a
very good form of growing for us," Diane says. "It
uses less water, it's the right height and you can
accommodate wheelchairs with a cement ﬂoor."
Amy Gessert is the volunteer and training coordinator for Lettuce Dream. "Our goal with our interns
is competitive community employment," she says.
RURAL MISSOURI | JUNE 2017
"We do some classroom stuff, but most everything
is hands on in the greenhouse. They're working side
by side with people from the community."
Internships last nine months and are currently
available to residents of Nodaway and surrounding
counties with a developmental disability. "They're
learning things like how to interact with coworkers,
dealing with customers and working in different
environments," Amy says. "Eventually as we move
through this, the void we're trying to ﬁll is ﬁnding
everyone a spot in the community to utilize their
Currently, the interns are in the greenhouse
three mornings per week. One day is reserved for
the tedious task of seeding the horticubes. Another
day is devoted to transplanting them to their ﬁnal
growing location. The last is harvesting produce to
be distributed throughout the community.
Parker Schenkel is currently an intern at Lettuce
Dream. "I like that we come together as a team,"
he says. "If one person needs help with seeding or
transplanting or something, someone comes in and
picks them up."
Charlie Clodfelter joined the Lettuce Dream team
earlier this year as director, running the day-to-day
"Everyone has a niche they just seem to ﬁll,
regardless of whatever perceived disability they
bring," says Charlie, who can be seen around the
greenhouse practicing his sign language skills with
intern Morgan Hawk. "We have one intern who will
step back sometimes and look at our overall workﬂow and say 'Why are we doing it this way? What if
we did this instead?' "
While Charlie is devoted to Lettuce Dream's mission of creating lasting job-training skills, he also is