Giving Gardens grows beautiful plants and people.
Slow down when you see the cottages.
That’s the best advice for new visitors to Giving Gardens, a series of endearing greenhouses situated on Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises’ campus on South Bearfield Road in Columbia.
For 50 years, CMSE has served the industry communities with a workforce of 130 dependable employees who have disabilities. About 10 years ago, during the recession, CMSE’s contract volumes decreased, putting the jobs of CMSE’s employees at risk.
Concerned over the idea of losing meaningful jobs, Executive Director Bruce Weber turned to his rotary club for help. There, he found a solution in Bill Ragen.
Bill, the founder of Giving Gardens, had an extensive background in horticulture. It was under his guidance that Giving Gardens began. The greenhouse’s supplementary income not only provided job stability for CMSE employees, but a priceless therapeutic experience as well.
“I mean really it’s an addiction, but if you’re going to have one, plants and dirt is a good one,” says Tammy Cundiff, greenhouse manager.
And it’s a sustainable addiction. Giving Gardens grows almost every plant in their four greenhouses, unlike most box stores, which have plants shipped in from around the globe. Giving Gardens also offers creative workshops for groups or pairs to create their own potted gardens.
“The whole thing about the greenhouse is that we have a quality product, competitive prices, and our customer service is off the charts. That’s strictly due to my employees,” says Tammy. “Where else can you shop where you’ll get a hug?”
Out of CMSE’s 130 employees, 85 percent have a developmental disability — Down syndrome, autism, or a combination of multiple issues. The other 15 percent have been diagnosed with mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“A lot of these guys have been bullied much of their lives. They didn’t get treated well in the school system, some of them have bad home lives,” says Tammy. “To be in a place where you know you’re safe and you know that you’re accepted — that’s huge.”
Laura Hinkle, one of the greenhouse employees, can identify with that unfortunate, but common, employee backstory.
Laura grew up in Jonesburg before being separated from her parents. After being shuffled from one place to another, she eventually landed in Columbia. While she enjoys both the warehouse and greenhouse work environments, Laura prefers the greenhouse’s relaxing pace and presence. She loves all the plants, especially flowers with strong scents. One of her favorite greenhouse activities is sampling the fresh vegetables.
Tammy calls Laura the “Catch Up Queen,” due to her speed and accuracy while planting. Her skills have made her an almost permanent fixture in one of the coveted rotating greenhouse positions.
Bruce and Tammy agree that their tagline, “growing beautiful plants and people,” sums up the project perfectly.
“I’m helping my employees have a job that they truly enjoy. Anytime that you have a job and you’re making money, that gives you worth,” says Tammy.
As the flowers bloom around them, greenhouse employees blossom into confident versions of themselves. The greenhouse is a home where they can develop the skills to move into the community workforce. Over the past five years, 30 employees have joined competitive or supported employment. They’ll always have a place to come back to, however.
Come early and get in line. Giving Gardens opens their doors every year on April 1.