A group seeking to create a greenhouse gardening operation that would provide jobs for Nodaway County residents coping with physical and developmental disabilities is part of a grant process that could provide the initiative with up to $200,000 in funding over three years.
Maryville resident Diane Francis said Thursday the local "Lettuce Dream" organization is to be listed as a pilot project on a grant application being written by Norwescap. The New Jersey-based non-profit social services organization is seeking to develop as many as 30 such greenhouse operations nationwide.
One such garden, Arthur & Friends, also located in New Jersey, has offered to provide the Maryville group with an extensive portfolio of start-up materials and technical assistance for $10,000 plus an additional $2,500 consulting fee over each of the next five years.
Should Lettuce Dream receive the federal grant funds, Francis said, the project would have a solid foundation from which to move forward with construction of one or two greenhouses as early as next spring.
The organization is currently seeking certification as a non-profit organization capable of accepting tax-free gifts, which Francis is hoping will include a parcel of land large enough for at least three 30-foot by 100-foot gardening structures.
Ideally, Francis said, the project would include three greenhouses: one for training workers and two more dedicated to hydroponically growing vegetables for sale to area businesses and institutions.
Hydroponics, a soilless form of farming in which plants are cultivated in long trays filled with nutrient-rich liquid, offers a number of advantages, Francis said, including easy wheelchair access to plants and a reduction in the risk of bacterial contamination from tainted soil.
"We have a committee that's looking for a location," she said. "Ideally we would have a plot of land that is easily accessible. One thing that (Arthur & Friends) have told us is don't sell yourself short in space because it will grow. So the idea is to start small but have the ability to expand."
Francis said the Arthur & Friends business model indicates that once the houses are up and going, the operation should be self-sustaining and would not have to rely on grants and donations to survive.
Even if the grant is approved, however, local donations will still be needed to cover construction and other start-up expenses.
Lettuce Dream should find out if the grant application has been successful sometime in September. If it is, the first round of funding is scheduled for early 2014.
Francis, whose son Tony is afflicted with autism, admits that the greenhouse project is a "pie in the sky," at least for the moment. But similar operations have proved successful elsewhere, and several area institutions, such as the Benedictine monastery east of Maryville, have expressed interest in buying the produce.
Page 2 of 2 - "We need more jobs like this in Maryville," Francis said, "and so, why not?"