Helping Hands: Mountain Valley Developmental Services Greenhouse

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Matt Urmson, MVDS Greenhouse Manager

“My favorite part is taking care of plants,” says a client who is carefully digging holes in a raised bed in one of Mountain Valley Developmental Service’s greenhouses. He lifts a tender broccoli seedling from a starter container and places it into the dirt. “It’s peaceful. They’re like part of my family.”

Mountain Valley Developmental Services

MVDS, a community nonprofit organization, provides support for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. One way they do this is through is a vocational job training program within a commercial greenhouse facility that sells plants and flowers to retail and business customers.

The greenhouse operates year-round

On any given day, you can purchase over 11 different types of house plants, including spider plants, purple hearts, dracaena, and succulents. Heading into Spring, they sprout 27+ species of annuals and perennials, including geraniums, begonias, lupine, and yarrow. This year, look for a unique variety of milkweed cultivated because it attracts pollinators, namely, the yellow and black imperial swallowtail that enchants local gardeners and hikers alike. Plus, the greenhouse staff and clients are growing vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and a variety of tomatoes.  Save room in your garden for Pruden’s Purple, an heirloom tomato variety which grows deep maroon-blushed fruit that weighs up to one pound.

An intentional approach

Whether trimming tired blooms, planting or watering seedlings, collecting and sorting seeds, feeding chickens, hauling dirt or turning compost – the peaceful joy of these activities permeates the place, and one imagines, the plants. This purposefulness rings true with the greenhouse staff’s philosophy of permaculture, which is about working with, rather than against, nature. It is an approach to plants and to people, to all living things, with prolonged, thoughtful observation – valuing the whole functionality of a system, rather than narrowing the focus to a single product or single linear process. In other words, the greenhouse staff is supported in their personal and professional growth. As the staff members grow in confidence and new skills, they help each of MVDS’s clients to work within their individual strengths. Everyone thrives.  So do the plants.

Everything is integrated

The greenhouse is “green,” with solar heating, natural fertilizer, on-site worm composting, and an active commitment to organic practices and reducing the facility’s carbon footprint.

Sopris Elementary School is immediately adjacent to the MVDS facility. The students are able to walk over several times a week to care for 6 raised greenhouse beds. (credit: Sarah Kuhn)

Community Relations

As part of the organization’s mission to the community, MVDS has collaborated with Sopris Elementary School. The campus is immediately adjacent to the facility. The classes walk over and care for six large raised beds in one of the two greenhouses. They grow lettuces, spinach, carrots, and other vegetables for their classrooms. They provide lunchroom compost for worm beds and they feed the chickens. In the summer, MVDS staff and clients take care of the school’s classroom turtle and tortoise.

“A big component of the grade two curriculum is life science,” explains Erica Lehmkuhl, SES second grade teacher and head of the school gardening program. “Through this work, we can learn about botany, the components of the soil, and the life cycles of worms and other creatures living in the garden. Plus, kids are often happy to eat green vegetables that they have grown. We plan classroom celebrations around each thing we harvest.”

The benefits are mutual

The garden classroom provides an opportunity for the students to interact with MVDS clients on a regular, ongoing basis. Activities, where the clients can teach the students, place these adults in the role of expert, laying the groundwork for a completely different view of people with disabilities for the SES students.

Would you like to visit the greenhouse?

And give your children a chance to meet some of the extraordinary people who make it grow? The plants are grown for retail sale so that members of the broader Valley community can engage with MVDS and its clients.  The greenhouse is open year-round and features monthly sales and a big, yearly Spring Sale. By shopping at the MVDS greenhouse, you can buy organic, shop local, and support the organization’s mission,  literally providing the fruits of labor.

About Matt Urmson

Mountain Valley Developmental Services Greenhouse Director