Peachtree Farm gives adults with disabilities place to work, thrive

Tucked away in a Peachtree Corners technology park, a hydroponic greenhouse has emerged, and an entire farm operation is taking root. There are baby chicks, honeybees and plants grown from seeds germinated inside a nearby office building.

Dreams are also beginning to germinate here. Peachtree Farm is a nonprofit that provides jobs, vocational training and community for adults with intellectual disabilities. The farm is the vision of Mike and Mary Twiner of Dunwoody, and their son Joe, 26, oversees the operation as president.

The business will grow and sell tomatoes year-round, commercially, and to the public and market other seasonal vegetables, eggs and honey. Long-range goals include supported housing for special needs adults on the same property.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The Twiners have long wanted to provide sustainable jobs for adults with disabilities, a population, they say, with an unemployment rate of around 70%.

Their youngest child, Quinn, 21, was born with special needs. Since her birth, the whole family has engaged with the special needs community, especially with Special Olympics.

“She has been the guiding force for a lot of our family’s community engagement throughout her life,” said Joe Twiner, who also has a twin brother, Nick, and an older brother, Ben, 27.

“This is building on what we’ve seen in the community. So while I don’t know if all of this will be the right fit for my sister, we know there’s a need, and we’re responding to that,” he said.

Mike Twiner, a past board chair for Georgia Special Olympics, said parents of special needs kids share the same concerns about their children’s future.

They ask: “How will we take care of them financially; where will they live? That process begins almost immediately because you start looking forward at birth,” he said.

After talking with others in the special needs community, the Twiners whittled their vision to this small sustainable farm. It came naturally because of Mike Twiner’s background in hydroponics as president of HydroPro Engineering and Construction. He said farm operations could be replicated in regions where there are similar employment needs.

“The community has really stepped up and seen what’s behind it and why and have been very generous,” Mike Twiner said.

Peachtree Farm started last summer with a farm stand in Peachtree Corners. Workers sold donated vegetables and generated interest from hundreds of people who offered their help.

As president, Joe Twiner does everything from setting up greenhouses to raising funds and training workers. He has a master’s degree from Boston College focused on nonprofits and disability rights.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Peachtree Farm is on property owned by real estate investors who have donated its use, but there are long-range plans to purchase the land and build housing. However, for now, tomatoes are on the agenda.

“Tomatoes and farming are a hands-on practical job that it’s easy to make accessible,” Joe Twiner said.

Fifteen to 20 raised beds, each sponsored by a donor, will produce vegetables sold directly to consumers. Bee boxes, also donor-supported, and painted by artists with disabilities and others, are situated around the property. Honey will be bottled and sold.

The nonprofit is already providing paychecks. James Montesi, 20, and Kevin Mackey, 22, prepared garden beds and helped with the greenhouse. They also moved the chicken coop from another farm, painted it white, and watered the tiny seedlings each morning. They both said work on the farm is hard but good.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Montesi said he likes driving the Bobcat best, and Mackey enjoyed working the farm stand last summer and talking with customers.

“The farm stand is pretty cool,” Mackey said, who asked customers what they wanted and filled their bags.

Joe Twiner said the desire for jobs is “incredible,” and there is a waiting list for employment at Peachtree Farm. They pay their workers a full wage and offer job coaching and vocational training for those seeking jobs elsewhere.

“People want to work; it’s something that gives us all meaning, gives us purpose. So we want to make sure everyone has that driving force in their life,” he said.

The small operation gets a lot of technical help from agricultural companies and other services and volunteer support from the special needs community.

Joe Twiner does have a few rules on the farm. Among them: get dirty, be safe, and most of all, have fun.

“This is a community where they can work together in an acceptable environment,” said Mary Twiner. “They have so much fun. Last summer, they had a ball working together.”


HOW TO HELP

Donations and sponsorships are needed to grow tomatoes and put people to work.

Long-range plans include: five greenhouses, 15 supported living homes, offices, education and recreation center

Learn more at: https://www.peachtreefarm.org/