Stopping to smell the Roses for Autism

The Pinchbeck Rose Farm is rooted in Connecticut agriculture.

The 118-acre property in Guilford first opened in 1929 and is now in its fourth generation of ownership. The rose farm itself, which is on 38 acres, has so far produced more than 200 million blooms during almost 90 years of operation.

But after briefly closing in 2008 due to foreign competition, owner Tom Pinchbeck shifted gears from business to philanthropy. The following year, he partnered with Ability Beyond, a Bethel-based nonprofit serving nearly 3,000 people with disabilities in New York and Connecticut, and reopened The Pinchbeck Rose Farm as Roses for Autism. The initiative strives to alleviate the 88-percent unemployment rate for people with autism by offering jobs and services to prepare them for future employment. Simultaneously, the organization preserves the farm’s rose-growing tradition while using the flower sales to help fund the services.

“I like to say that Roses for Autism is everybody’s first job,” says Michelle Ouimette, managing director. “When you come here, it’s everything you learn at your first job, like how to work as a team, how to be responsible for something and how to take pride in your work.”

Roses for Autism teaches social skills that aren’t always communicated in a classroom, such as dealing with work-related conflicts, critiques and surprises.

“If you’re at a workplace and it’s somebody’s birthday and a cake shows up, somebody with autism who has never experienced that may not know what it means or how to handle it,” she says. “Or, if there is a work function, someone with autism may become anxious and not know how to handle it.”

The program also helps employees explore the option of higher education.

“We help them identify what their interests and their strengths are,” she says. “We want to make sure people are successful and that they learn here.”

Like the career training, the rose-growing part of Roses for Autism is a year-round operation. Annually, the farm grows 16 varieties of roses in its greenhouses, along with three varieties of lilies and gerbera daisies. In its outdoor cutting garden, it features snapdragons, irises and other blooms.

The farm has also created a scent, Ardent Rose eau de parfum, a fusion of sandalwood, musk and white amber that’s available in a 1.7-ounce bottle. Usually retailing for $60, the perfume is available for $39.99 through Mother’s Day.

“You can choose to buy flowers anywhere,” Ouimette says. “You can choose a lot of places to buy perfume. But if you choose to buy from an organization like ours, you choose to preserve the commercial tradition of agricultural growing and giving youth the opportunity to succeed.”

The farm is open six days a week, and customers can purchase flowers or gifts for next-day shipping anywhere in the country. Roses for Autism at The Pinchbeck Rose Farm is at 929 Boston Post Road in Guilford. For more, visit rosesforautism.com or call 203-453-2186.

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