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Nassau BOCES and Smile Farms partnership brings new program to the Rosemary Kennedy Center

People holding a large red ribbon that is being cut.

From left: Dr. Robert Dillon, District Superintendent, Nassau BOCES; Jim McCann, Founder & Chairman Smile Farms and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc.; Susan Bergtraum, President, Nassau BOCES Board; Rebecca Tillman, Associate Director, Smile Farms Inc.; Laura Curran, Nassau County Executive; Susan McNulty, Executive Director, Nassau BOCES Department of Special Education and Ryan Osborne, Chief Operating Officer, Waldner’s Business Environments cut the ribbon in celebration of the latest Smile Farms Inc. Campus at the Nassau BOCES Rosemary Kennedy Center.

Along with their other studies, students at the Nassau BOCES Rosemary Kennedy Center now have the chance to learn all about working with a variety of vegetables, plants, and flowers as part of the new Smile Farms campus there.

The two organizations recently held a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially unveil Smile Farm’s tenth campus in the New York City region. The new program for differently abled students will give them meaningful job, vocational and educational opportunities in a range of aspects related to farming and agriculture. It will also help students fully understand how to plant and grow delicious, healthy food while getting their hands dirty.

“Since we had the greenhouses here and an established horticulture program, the partnership with Smile Farms seemed like a natural fit,” said Susan McNulty, Nassau BOCES Executive Director of the Department of Special Education. “We also have a shared vision of creating a space for our students to be prepared to join the workforce. The hands-on, real-world experience our students will get here is unapparelled. We look forward to growing together and we thank Smile Farms for this wonderful opportunity.”

More than 70 young adults and teens are currently enrolled in the program with 10 teachers who will lead a specialized curriculum focused on seed-starting, cultivating, harvesting, marketing and distribution of crops.

“It’s great partnerships that make things happen,” said Jim McCann, Smile Farms and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. Founder and Chairman. “The team at Smile Farms has been very lucky to have collaborators like Nassau BOCES. The idea behind Smile Farms was to create work and skill development opportunities for people with disabilities, and now, through this partnership, we will be supporting teenagers as well, preparing them to have something gainful to do later in life as well, and learning how to provide for their own well-being in the future.”

To give students the full, hands-on experience, the Center has installed 12 raised cedar beds with built-in irrigation systems for growing peppers, tomatoes, and other specialty crops. It also includes instructional rooms that are equipped with grow labs. Produce grown at the facility will be donated for use at Hempstead Senior Centers, the Meadowbrook Alternative Program at Brookside, Hempstead Conservation and Waterways and will also be used for Nassau BOCES campus lunches.

Over 100 pounds of specialty hot and sweet peppers have already been harvested to produce hot sauce. All revenue from hot sauce sales is funneled back into programming for individuals with disabilities.

“Workforce development is something we are proud of at Nassau BOCES. One of our agency’s strategic goals is to improve Long Island’s Regional economy, something we do by helping to create a well-trained workforce,” said Dr. Robert Dillon, District Superintendent, Nassau BOCES. “That is why we are so happy to partner with Smile Farms to offer unique learning experiences for our students that will lead to meaningful work opportunities.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, along with Nassau BOCES District Superintendent, Dr. Robert Dillon; Jim McCann, Founder and Chairman of Smile Farms Inc; Ryan Osborne, Chief Operating Officer, Waldner’s Business Environment (sponsors of the Smile Farm Campus) joined students, teachers, school officials and Board members for the celebration.

 About Smile Farms

Smile Farms Inc., is a 501(c)3 organization focused on creating meaningful job opportunities in agricultural settings to help young adults and adults with developmental disabilities master new skills, experience teamwork, contribute to their community and take home a paycheck. By developing site-specific agricultural campuses and marketing plans in partnership with non-profit and for-profit organizations, each farm is a revenue generating business that can use funds earned to support its participants’ employment and its mission. Smile Farms is the signature philanthropic partner of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. Since 2015, the company has supported Smile Farms programs through a combination of philanthropic donations, cause-related marketing promotions, in-kind assistance, and the national-level fundraising and promotional activities of its customers and employees. This support has been crucial in expanding the mission of Smile Farms and growing the organization from a single greenhouse operation into nine campuses and counting.