What began as a high school FFA (Future Farmers of America) project evolved into a retail business venture for 19-year-old Marissa Schletzbaum. Marissa is the owner and sole proprietor of Straw Hat Farms in Pleasantville, Iowa.
Marissa’s project, growing plants from seeds and plugs, is now a thriving greenhouse operation. She sells flowers, vegetables, and hanging flower baskets to a client-base she has established over the last four years, and is a vendor at area farmers’ markets and the Pleasantville High School Spring Plant Sale.
Marissa specializes in growing wave petunias and marigolds, and tomato and pepper plants. Most of Marissa’s business is word-of-mouth referral and return customers. She has a reputation for growing plants that are healthy, beautiful, and robust due to her careful tending of them. Until recently, Marissa grew her plants in the basement of her parents’ Pleasantville home, but that is changing.
Marissa and her family decided she needed a larger, more commercial space to expand Straw Hat Farms. They ordered a prefabricated greenhouse kit made to their specifications from a company in northwest Iowa and purchased a five-acre tract of land including a barn, a garage, and several small buildings, from neighbors. Marissa and her family hired a local contractor to excavate the site for the greenhouse, pave a parking lot, and pour a cement foundation.
When the greenhouse kit arrived, it became a family project for Marissa, her parents, brother, and sister, to lay out all the components, and assemble and enclose the greenhouse structure itself. Future plans include an automated watering system and expanded inventory. Marissa would like to include annuals and a variety of other plants in her stock and hire employees to assist with the operations, marketing, and delivery of Straw Hat Farm plants and products. The possibilities for expanding Straw Hat Farms seem almost endless.
Marissa was born with Down syndrome and as she got older, her parents wanted to support her in finding something meaningful to do after high school. Focusing on her interest in growing things, and knowing that employment opportunities would be hard to find, self-employment seemed to be the best option for Marissa. Marissa is proud of her “growing” business and wants to be an employer who welcomes other workers with disabilities to her Straw Hat Farms team.