Handmade Candles for Equal Opportunity

Dutton Farm Market handcrafts natural candles and beauty products while providing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Dutton Farm Market’s story began when founder Jenny Brown noticed that her sister, Becca, who has down syndrome, had markedly different opportunities than Jenny once they’d both graduated from high school. This observation was supported by data; according to the Disability Equality Index, 50% of individuals with a developmental disability are less likely to find consistent employment and 50% experience poverty. These statistics were even more sobering given that there are currently 61 million Americans (one in four) who live with a disability (American Association of People with Disabilities).

It was with this disparity in mind that Dutton Farm Market was born. After seeing Becca struggle for years to find the community support to explore her gifts and continue to grow, Jenny and her mother, Michele Smither, founded Dutton Farm Market as a nonprofit with the mission of “empowering and supporting adults with disabilities to live a life of purpose, inclusion and dignity.”

Based in Rochester, Michigan, Dutton Farm Market started in 2010 as a soft skills building program for individuals with disabilities. They initially had four participants and continued to grow as they found more transferable job skills trainings. Jenny and Michele also worked to develop strategic partnerships within the community to provide employment placement for graduates of the program. It was in developing these placement and retention services that the staggering unemployment rate became even more apparent to the team.

One such case was a program participant named Marty who had a cognitive impairment and paranoid schizophrenia, which made finding and keeping a job very difficult. During one of his assessments, he talked about how badly he wanted a job, so Jenny promised him she would find one for him. After a discouraging and unfruitful six months of searching, she had a lightbulb moment: what if she hired him?

This was the catalyst for reimagining Dutton Farm Market as the social enterprise partner to their existing nonprofit. Jenny hired an aromatherapist to help her develop natural orange soap. Soon, she had a contract with a local bed and breakfast, which gave her enough money to hire Marty as their first employee. After a year of learning and using soft and hard job skills at Dutton Farm Market, he was hired at a medical supply company, where he is currently a favorite employee.

With Marty’s success, the Dutton Farm Market team grew their product line to include candles and other beauty products, increase their sales and hire more individuals. They now have 10 employees, working in various roles to create Dutton Farm Market’s hand-poured candles and beauty products. Each employee is given an assessment of their skill sets, passions and interests and then placed accordingly in production and manufacturing, quality control, customer service or inventory. This allows the team to ensure employment opportunities for individuals with varying capabilities.

Dutton Farm Market’s latest employee is 38 years old and had never had a job before. His first paycheck is currently hanging on his fridge. He used his second paycheck to take his mom out to lunch for the first time ever. She cried as she told the team the story; she had never thought he would have the opportunity to earn an income.

These stories reinforce Dutton Farm Market’s mission to send a message: people with disabilities have equal value, and we cannot leave anyone behind. They strive to recognize and give a voice to this often ignored population. This message is well-received by consumers as well, who are proud to be a part of Dutton Farm Market’s work by purchasing a high-quality product with a positive social impact on the lives of persons living with disabilities.

Dutton Farm Market’s team is grateful to be members of the Michigan chapter of SEA: “it makes all the difference to be surrounded by peers and other individuals who understand social enterprise and are passionate about solving complex social problems.”

To learn more about Dutton Farm Market, check out their member directory profile.

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