How the pandemic-driven gardening boom is helping people with disabilities in Edmonton

Aaron Webb carefully waters colourful hanging baskets he knows local gardeners will be keen to snap up when they go on sale later this spring.

“Patience. Don’t rush. We still have a month to go before we can even plant,” says the manager at Arch Greenhouses.

It’s not what you’d expect to hear from a man whose job it is to sell things like bedding plants and vegetables, but Arch Greenhouses isn’t your garden variety place. 

The 35,000-square-foot facility at 3151 97 St. in south Edmonton is actually a non-profit that has been supporting programs for adults with developmental disabilities for 42 years. 

Arch Greenhouses began in 1979 as a therapy program and over the years has evolved into a thriving business with proceeds from the greenhouses and retail space now being a major source of funding for Arch Enterprises, which provides day programs and employment and volunteer opportunities to Edmontonians.

“It’s really wonderful to work in an organization that makes everybody feel a part of the community, and I do it through plants so that’s even better,” Webb says.

The tomato plants in the greenhouse have more growing to do before they’re ready to plant in Edmonton gardens. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Webb advises customer to pick up seeds and planting potatoes but hold off on the bedding plants for now.

“Don’t go crazy just yet; let the weather warm up a bit,” he said. “We want people to have a good experience and not to panic buy.”

Webb says soaring demand from budding green thumbs during the pandemic coupled with a winter storm in Texas may affect some supplies at many garden centres this season, but that just provides an opportunity to experiment with something new. 

“Explore, because the plant world is huge and you can always find a different garden story every year.”

Arch Greenhouses is a non-profit that has been supporting programs for adults with developmental disabilities in Edmonton for 42 years. 2:29

You can see more from Arch Greenhouses on Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and the CBC Gem. 

“Plants are the new toilet paper and business is booming,” says Maggi Hegan, executive director of Arch Enterprises.

Growing profits at the greenhouse are critical to funding programs for the parent organization which currently has 85 clients, Hegan says. 

From employment and volunteer programs, to art and music therapy to physical recreation the goal is to help people live as “independently as possible in enjoying an enriched life,” she says. 

“Our mission is to inspire people to reach beyond.”

That’s what Arch client Daisy Stacey is doing everyday in the centre attached to the greenhouse space. Born with spina bifida, she has taken part in a variety of programs since 2005. 

“It’s a nice place to be with friends and meet people,” Stacey says. “I love it here.”

Daisy Stacey enjoys a moment in the sunshine at Arch Greenhouses. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

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