MARYVILLE, Mo. — A lot more than hydroponic produce has been growing these days at Lettuce Dream, a local non-profit greenhouse that provides vocational training for post-high school young adults coping with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

On Friday, the organization hosted its second annual Taste O’ Green salad luncheon in the Maryville First United Methodist Church fellowship hall, where Director Charlie Clodfelter was on hand to offer an impressive list of accomplishments posted by Lettuce Dream over the past several months.

Scores of area residents attended the self-serve luncheon, which from late morning through mid-afternoon offered diners a tasty assortment of salads, wraps, fruit dishes and desserts.

Most of the dishes on offer were made from produce grown at the Lettuce Dream complex near the intersection of East First Street and the U.S. Highway 71 bypass.

Clodfelter said the greenhouse’s current line-up of crops, which are sold to area restaurants, grocery stores and food-service operations, includes romaine lettuce, butterhead lettuce, Salanova, basil and pak choi, a variety of cabbage associated with China and other Asian countries.

The inventory of fresh-grown greenstuff is proving attractive to a growing list of Lettuce Dream customers, Clodfelter said, including Aramark, the food-service vendor for Northwest Missouri State University.

Aramark’s coming on board as a major customer — the company currently purchases 54 percent of Lettuce Dream’s total crop output — following Lettuce Dream’s acquisition of a Good Agricultural Practices certificate through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The regulatory designation that means the greenhouse has implemented traceability and sanitation practices, including worker training, designed to ensure its produce is grown and distributed under safe and healthy conditions.

Clodfelter said the arrangement with Aramark means Lettuce Dream is providing Northwest’s Campus Dining operation with 200 pounds of nutrition-rich romaine lettuce each week.

Other businesses on the organization’s customer roster include Hy-Vee supermarkets in Maryville and St. Joseph, the Dusty Trails wild-game restaurant in Rock Port and the employee cafeteria operation at Maryville’s Kawasaki Motors manufacturing plant.

The influx of customers, Clodfelter said, means Lettuce Dream is seeking to raise around $5,000 in grant funds and donations to pay for a new nursery bay, which could raise the greenhouse’s production volume by nearly 90 percent without construction of additional cultivation space.

“In a year’s time we’ve come a long way on all fronts,” Clodfelter said.

Other Lettuce Dream developments include efforts that could lead to client referrals through the Developmental Disabilities Division of Missouri’s Department of Mental Health.

The cost of training, placement and other services offered to those clients, Clodfelter said, could then be billed to Medicaid, creating an additional revenue stream.

Current Lettuce Dream clients receive all services free of charge, a practice Clodfelter said would continue for trainees not covered by the DMH referral program in the event it is ultimately approved.

Additional vocational offerings available through the non-profit include paid internships for qualified clients at the local Pizza Ranch restaurant.

Lettuce Dream currently serves nine clients working through a progressive series of vocational training modules. Clodfelter said three people have completed the program, one of whom is self-employed. The remaining two graduates both hold jobs in the private sector.

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