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Smile Farms Growing Food And Opportunity For Some Who Often Have Trouble Finding Work

WANTAGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- It's a very special harvest on Long Island.

Crops are being grown by special needs students, then used to feed local seniors and needy families.

Smile Farms
(credit: CBS2)

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reports, in a patch of green in Wantagh, a garden is growing with tomatoes and peppers. Also growing there? Confidence and skills for young people who won't find a bounty of job opportunities.

Seventy eight students with developmental disabilities at Nassau BOCES, ages 10-21, partnering with Smile Farms, a nonprofit creating meaningful job opportunities for people with different abilities.

"They feel a sense of purpose and pride in their work. But also they love the fact that they are starting with dirt and seed, and it turns into something so beautiful," said Rebecca Tillman of Smile Farms.

LINK: Learn More About Smile Farms

The brainchild of Jim McCann, founder and chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS, who launched Smile Farms because he witnessed his own disabled brother's difficulties finding a purpose.

"He couldn't find work. Like so many people with disabilities, 80% of those who can work are unemployed. Just crazy," McCann said. "We created Smile Farms. We have ten campuses employing hundreds of people with disabilities."

Smile Farms
(credit: CBS2)

The food grown is supplying food pantries, senior centers and group homes.

"It's feeding the students. They go home with students, we take them home. Everyone gets to eat them," said teacher Roxanne Weinstein.

And the peppers are branching off into a side business: Hot sauce. Smile Farms is packaging 6,000 bottles of hot sauce, that helps fund more farms.

And while the growing season is coming to an end, this is a year-round program.

Students grow the plants from seed, learning life skills that not only feed the community, but also feed their sense of self worth.

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