The mission of LetUsConnect Farm is to provide children and young adults on the autism spectrum with a vocational training program designed to promote the skills necessary for adulthood with an emphasis on economic self-sufficiency, community integration, and employment preparation via a hydroponic agribusiness.
LetUsConnect Farm is an example of how a non-profit organization with a socially conscious business model can meet important community needs and the agricultural challenges of the next century. LetUsConnect Farm will be an innovative program of Parikh Foundation (501-c3 non-profit foundation) DBA “LetUsConnect”, and will initially build hydroponic greenhouses on an 18-area parcel of land in Montgomery County, New Jersey. On this site it will grow year-round locally grown produce to sell to local restaurants, grocery stores and residents while providing employment opportunities for citizens with autism and related disabilities.
LetUsConnect Farm will begin with a single 2,880 sq. ft. (30’ X 96”). A hydroponic greenhouse of this size has a growing area that is equivalent to five acres of traditional soil-based farming. It will employ people with autism to grow hydroponically and sell highly sought-after produce year-round to the Princeton area restaurants, grocery stores and to the public. New Jersey’s limited four-month growing season can be overcome with the technical innovation of Controlled Environmental Agricultural (CEA) farming with a desirable product, market feasibility and smart business planning. Staffing can be achieved by utilizing a ready and underutilized workforce. The market is more than hungry for a consistent year-round supply of local product. Eager to meet that unmet market demand, LetUsConnect Farm hopes to start construction in the late spring of 2017 and will start operating in the late summer of 2018..
Unlike other projects that have the considerable business entry barrier of high land costs, LetUsConnect Farm has innovated a fiscally responsible approach. LetUsConnect Farm will utilize the land donated by Nish Parikh, CEO of LetUsConnect, a non-profit, which is committed to empowering individuals with autism. This land allows us to use 3% of the forested area to build a greenhouse program. The requirement is 50’ X 100’ to accommodate a single training/production greenhouse of 30’X 96’. A greenhouse of this size can dramatically increase the amount of food that is able to be grown in a community garden and significantly increasing the amount of employees that are able to work. In other words, unusable land becomes a job-producing agricultural product factory – all of which is sustainable and profitable.
LetUsConnect Farm will also serve as a platform to encourage a healthy diet and educate local citizens – both young and old – on growing produce in local areas and the importance of healthy eating while engaging the local community, visitors and schoolchildren in the region and at the same time, grow valuable produce to sell. Additionally, food producers of scale in the immediate area have an extraordinary demand from the large concentration of Princeton’s high-end and mid-range restaurants to meet year-round volume orders for fresh produce. Clearly, there is market share to be filled with a Princeton-based, disability-minded and literally a locally seeded company.
LetUsConnect Farm will be a great success story for innovating job creation and agricultural product sales by employing a key but underserved sector of the area’s job base – those with developmental disabilities. With a 78% unemployment rate among New Jersey’s workforce of people with disabilities, which is 17.3% of the total population of the state, LetUsConnect Farm together with private sector organizations can create meaningful jobs in a proven profitable business of produce production in targeted communities.