Peckham Farms

Michigan / Nov. 9, 2012 / by The Team

Job opportunities seem few and far between with the economic downturn in full swing, and for those with a disability, finding a job can be even more difficult, even in the best of economies. In Lansing, Michigan, however, Peckham, Inc. has created a place where people with disabilities can find jobs and thrive.

Peckham, Inc. is a “private nonprofit community rehabilitation center,” says President and CEO Mitch Tomlinson. “Our main mission is to provide rehabilitation services to people with disabilities in the tri-county area. We do that by creating jobs for folks with disabilities.”

The people they work with on a daily basis “come from all walks of life and they represent all types of disability,” says Tomlinson. “We have people with developmental disabilities, we have people with mental illness, we have people with hearing and vision issues, you name it, we work with those folks.”

In order to provide a wide range of opportunities for people with all kinds of disability, they have a variety of different jobs – a total of five businesses in which clients can work. 

As their biggest business, they “Manufacture clothing primarily for the defense department,” explains Tomlinson. “So we design and manufacture extreme cold weather and really cool stuff and create jobs for folks with disabilities.”

The other businesses include warehousing service, a cleaning company, and a call center, all staffed by people with disabilities. 

Their newest business, started two years ago, is Peckham Farms, a farm complete with greenhouse, hoop houses and enough land to grow tomatoes, pumpkin, and a variety of vegetables. They even have bee hives that provide the farm with honey. 

Working on the farm certainly teaches people how to farm but it also gives them a sense of self-confidence. Don Majkol, a Peckham Farms employee who works with the bees says, “Even though I've got some problems, I can still get some stuff done and it just might take a little bit longer than normal, but I get stuff done and I'm helping keep the food supply going."

The benefits of growing vegetables on their own farm extend to everyone working at Peckham. The kitchen at Peckham serves meals to every one of the some 2000 employees across the five businesses. Peckham makes sure to serve healthy and nutritious food, and the farm has helped them do just that. 

“There's a really strong link between poverty and disability, and in a lot of our inner cities, there isn't really access to non-processed food so growing food locally and having it available for folks locally is key to our mission here at Peckham.” 

“Now we have our own farm,” explains Tomlinson, “we can grow lettuce and get the lettuce we picked today and serve it on our salad bar on the same day. When we have excess tomatoes, we can bag them up and people at Peckham can buy them at very discounted prices ... can buy fresh-made food.” 

Not only does the farm provide jobs and experience for the people Peckham serves, it gives them a bigger link to the people around them. Tomlinson explains that, “We've been able to connect with the community in so many ways that we weren't able to connect with the community before. This year we have 100 CSAs or shares of our farm that are available.”

The community is now able to drop by the farm shop and interact with those working on the farm. They also get to purchase some of the products from the farm, including homemade preserves and baskets of vegetables. 

The businesses started by Peckham are always created with the idea of training people in important and useful skills as they employ them. Tomlinson says that, “Farming is one of Michigan's largest industries so it's logical that we're creating jobs in one of our largest industries.”

Sally Aitchison-Powney, a Peckham farms employee, says, "They put me out in the hothouses at first, I did some weeding and I learned about the water system and what to watch out for, the pesticides, the disease of plants and it's been a great learning process. I learn something new and different every day."

Those working at Peckham learn important skills while being employed but Tomlinson emphasizes that it is up to the individual as to which career they go onto after leaving Peckham. 

“Whether they're working on the farm itself or whether they're working in the transportation and logistics aspect of that or the manufacturing aspect, it's really up to the person. We're here to kind of create the opportunity and to grow hope but the worker really chooses their own path.” 

Peckham, Inc. is clearly geared towards their one goal: to create a safe and welcoming space where people with disabilities can learn to work in an industry in which they could go on to find a job later. 

“Farming is another opportunity for the folks that we serve,” says Tomlinson. “Where it leads each person is yet to be determined but at the end of the day, by growing food, we're growing hope. People will have an opportunity to experience work in a different way, in a different environment and hopefully that will lead to their own skill development and to jobs wherever they choose is clear.”

The emphasis is on training but also on fun, and that sense of enjoyment can be seen in everyone up to the Executive Director, who is enjoying the new farm as much as those working there. 

“For me, it's fun to get that basket of stuff and not to know what's going to be in there and then go home and create a meal around what we harvested today. And I think for a lot of folks, that's the same thing.” 

To find out more about Peckham, Inc. please visit their website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.