Business is blooming at Empowering Gardens Inc., much like the more than 100 varieties of flowers offered at 7730 Madison St.
So far in 2018, sales are up 35 percent from where they were this time last year, said Richard Biggins, co-director of Empowering Gardens, a nonprofit garden center that aims to provide individuals with disabilities meaningful, long-term employment. In 2017, business was up 50 percent compared to the year before. He estimated that right now they have $25,000 worth of flowers on display, and that many customers tell him, “I’ll be back because I love the stuff but, more important, we can come here and spend our money for a good cause.”
Aside from the two directors, all of Empowering Gardens employees are people with disabilities of one kind or another.
Adam Barron, who has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, lived at the YMCA for seven years and was unemployed during that time. Since he found steady employment at Empowering Gardens—working about 25 hours a week for almost three years—his credit rating has improved and he has been able to move into his own apartment in Forest Park.
“We’re proud of what we do,” said Ana Solares, co-director. “I don’t want people coming here because they feel sorry for our employees. I want people to be happy with the quality of their purchase. The way we do it is to have a big selection, and high quality with competitive prices.”
Empowering Gardens’ long- term plan is to buy the land they are now renting for an estimated cost of about $300,000, Biggins said. Owning the property is important, he explained, because then the nonprofit will be eligible for grants to help pay for a year-round greenhouse, which Biggins estimated will cost approximately $200,000. That will help Empowering Gardens from being homeless during the winter months, and relying on generous property owners to let them operate in their vacant spaces.
After a few years, Biggins said that an all-weather greenhouse could help Empowering Gardens become profitable and self-sustaining. He dreams of supplying local restaurants with organically grown spices and vegetables.