Roses for Autism to the Rescue

Don't have your act together for Valentine's Day? Thanks to Roses for Autism (RFA), you can buy freshly-cut, fragrant Connecticut-grown Pinchbeck roses - if you order quickly.

Yes, these are the same famous Pinchbecks, grown under glass in Guilford since 1929, once sought after by hotels in New York and Boston for their heady fragrance and full blooms.

After the Pinchbeck family decided it could no longer run the business in 2008, Ability Beyond Disability, a nonprofit organization based in Bethel, set up RFA through its Growing Possibilities arm. The rose growing, wholesale and retail operation not only keeps a Connecticut tradition and agricultural production going, it provides life training and career opportunities for adults who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, claims it affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys.

In operation for about a year, RFA has filled up a 50,000-square-foot greenhouse, which it leases from the Pinchbeck family, with roses. Its workers have installed computers, an online ordering system and a retail operation, selling fresh cut roses six days a week. Plans are to fill the other 100,000-foot greenhouse, according to Lori Gregan, manager of retail operations.

"Just like the rest of society, everybody is different, but we're all equal here. It's all about how to make it work for the students so then they can work for us, as a real-world operation," she said. "They might come here and not be able to engage with another person, or advocate for themselves. It's our responsibility to give them the tools so they can go on to their next job. It works because we all come together and work as one."

The handful of students, mostly high school age or young adults, learn about and find their niche in growing, cutting, packing and shipping to computer systems and front-end customer interface, either on the phone or in person. The program has the capacity for 25 students at a time. One has completed the training and is ready to move on to another employer, she said.

"It's an amazing thing that happens here, it's magic," said Gregan, who came from an intense real world retail background and never planned to work in the fields of horticulture or training adults with disabilities. "When I have a mom say to me 'I've never seen my 18-year-old son smile, and now he walks out the door, smiling; that's why I come to work here every day."

There are 16 different varieties of roses, including some with stems 3- to 4-feet long. RFA expects to cut and ship 2,200 to 2,500 dozen roses, most of them red, for Valentines Day.

The roses are cut at daybreak, put directly into water, graded and packed, and go out the door in a day or two, not a week or two, which is typical of roses shipped in from another country, she said. RFA has gone online with its orders and can ship anywhere in the country.

"Imagine your grandmother's favorite rose perfume, that's what our roses smell like," said Gregan.

You can find the roses at smaller grocers, including Bishops Orchard in Guilford, It's Only Natural in Middletown, and Whole Foods in Glastonbury and West Hartford and Highland Park Markets. Gregan hopes to add stores in New London County. She also welcomes orders from corporations, hotels and convention centers.

You can buy your own at the farm, at 929 Boston Post Road, Guilford, six days a week, Monday through Saturday, 8:30 am to 4 pm, and special hours on Sunday, Feb. 13, 12 to 5 pm. Go to or call (203) 453.2186.

"We do expect to sell out, so place your order early and come to the express pick-up line," Gregan said.

Hear more about Roses for Autism on Suzanne's CT Outdoors radio show on WLIS 1420 AM and WMRD 1150 AM, Saturday, Feb. 12, 1-1:30 pm and Sunday, Feb. 13, 7-7:30 am.


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