By Christina Rice

The Lettuce Dream foundation harvested its first crop of approximately 200 lettuce plants on October 19.

The growing process takes six weeks and each week new seeds are sown ensuring a consistent supply of plants. In addition to lettuce, the foundation grows basil, butterhead lettuce and mini romaine.

The plants are grown using hydroponics, a soil-free alternative to growing. Seeds are placed in a sterile system and allowed access to nutrient-enriched water that constantly flows throughout the system. The plants sit slightly above the water to keep them from drowning. This system uses 10 percent less water than conventional growing methods.

The sterile system creates healthy plants with less chance of harboring bacteria or contamination. Since the crops are grown in a controlled greenhouse environment, there are no pesticides or insecticides applied.

Shoppers can purchase the produce at Maryville Hy-Vee and can expect the plants to have a root ball. This root ball helps the plants stay fresh longer than conventional lettuce. Kawasaki is also purchasing the lettuce for use in its food service department which provides meals for employees.

Once the growing operation is running smoothly, the foundation will begin to incorporate individuals with special needs as employees. The goal for the foundation is to create a place to help those with special needs gain skills necessary to thrive in the workplace. These individuals will learn people and greenhouse skills. Staff members hope the program will allow them to work in places like Hy-Vee’s produce department and plant nurseries.

Currently, the foundation has one volunteer with special needs who is helping them fine tune the program. Staff members are learning which details they need to refine before launching employee training.

Individuals will be able to apply for the non-paid training program soon. Frances said they will complete classroom and hands-on training in the calming greenhouse environment.

“We needed more opportunities for those with special needs in our community after high school, where they can engage and interact with people.” Diane Frances, Lettuce Dream Foundation board president, said. “We are growing individuals to have skills and integrate into our community. It exposes us to diversity. It is a win-win situation for everyone.”

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