On Pencheck farms, the greenhouses are set to a summery 80 degrees while the busy employees get to work, harvesting flowers for Valentine’s Day.
February 14th is the day that flower companies receive their biggest business all year. Currently, workers who are part of the Roses for Autism program are helping prepare the flowers for harvest, which includes pushing them to “flush,” or bloom.
Tom Pincheck used to own the largest rose grower in the New England area. He was forced to shrink his operations after competition from South America slashed the market price that roses sold for. Pinchek farms could not compete with the ideal climate and rock-bottom flower prices, so he shut down wholesale operations in 2008 after 79 years of operation.
The rose grower was then approached by a college friend, Jim Lyman. Jim was the owner of the Lyman Orchards Dynasty and also had a son with autism. He prosed to Pinchek to use his rose farm to open up a vocational program for children with autism. The organization Ability Beyond Disability loved the idea, so it was set into motion.
Pinchek describes Roses for Autism as a “new incarnation” of his previous business. Twenty five full time and part time employees work here, where they are given the tools necessary to engage in meaningful employment. In addition, Roses for Autism also includes an internship program, where hundreds of students are involved each year.
Their activities on a given day include cashiering, shipping and inventory, and working in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a peaceful space for many, as working with plants and flowers has proved to be a therapeutic activity for adults and children on the spectrum.
Perhaps most importantly, everyone is part of a team. This involves learning effective teamwork and social skills. The roses are not only special for those who receive them, according to Pinchek, but also for those who grow and care for them.
In the greenhouses, Pinchek and his employees and interns are cranking up temperatures, pushing the roses to flush before Valentine’s Day. All roses grown in the greenhouse are descendants of the same varieties that were cultivated in 1929. The most popular rich red variety is known as “Forever Yours.” In the muggy 80 degree greenhouse dripping with vapor, members of Roses for Autism are all working together to make sure these special red roses bloom just in time.