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Paper company infuses cards with seeds

May 2, 2014

“Sowing a few seeds, making a big difference.”

This is the motto of the business Plantables. Plantables produces paper products embedded with seeds of various garden plants. The types of seeds embedded in each paper are unique and all are comprised of plants that attract pollinators such as honeybees. In addition, the company also had a unique way in which they work to employ those with disabilities.

Co-owners Jim Schreiber and Karen Klyczek present a supportive community effort by creating jobs for those with disabilities. In fact, profits earned from the sale of their stationery products go to their workers.

As a former Special Education teacher at Hudson High School, Schreiber has worked with people with disabilities for many years. Through his work, he saw that students he taught did not have the opportunity to gain employment in a true work environment. Schreiber then had the goal to “try to incorporate lifelong learning skills” into the future of his students in terms of employment. One example of Schreiber’s pursuit to aid the development of workplace experience was a vocational project he implemented during his years of teaching in which Schreiber and his students made and sold dog treats to benefit the Humane Society and relief efforts in Haiti.

Several statistics further inspired Schreiber’s mission to start Plantables in October. For instance, 80 percent of people with disabilities were not included in the workforce in 2012 and of the 20 percent who are included, 14 percent are unemployed. Schreiber found these figures shocking and contributed to his passion to create a business around helping disabled people.

“Kids with disabilities can produce,” Schreiber said.

By working with people with disabilities to produce quality paper products, Plantables proves this every day. Plantables employs eight workers of all ability levels and many are former students of Schreiber’s whom he has known and worked with for years. Among the workers with disabilities there are also job coaches, family members and volunteers who give their time to the business. Many of the volunteers are students of the UW-River Falls AAC graduate studies course; the majority of whom have the goal to become speech pathologists.

Although there are ranges of different ability levels that are involved in the Plantables working environment, there is a motto of normalization that is inherent throughout the workplace. According to Schreiber, there is the philosophy of “parallel work.” This means all ability levels involved in the paper making process are collaborative and supportive rather than the stigma of a “boss/employee situation.”

Beyond the Plantables mission to provide real work opportunities for people with disabilities, there is also a certain degree of environmental awareness ands sustainability to Plantables.

This is mainly due to the work of Klyczek as a UWRF biology professor. Klyczek has a background in research on viruses and when the knowledge of the devastating loss of much of the honeybee population, due in large part to the spread of viruses, the need to help arose. With the honeybee population suffering losses of 21.9 percent nationwide since 2012 according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Klyczek and Schreiber developed their idea to embed paper products largely composed of recycled materials with seeds that attract pollinators like the honeybees and butterflies. Thus encouraging people to aid in the repopulation of honeybees and promote planting of native plants.

The majority of the Plantables inventory consists of whimsical greeting cards featuring their signature honeybee or butterfly cartoon. They also create a product they dub “Magic Bees” and “Magic Bugs.”

These small paper likenesses of honeybees or ladybugs are created on the same seed embedded paper as the greeting cards but are solely the cartoon insects. Schreiber also expressed hope to launch a new product to be called a “Seed Worm.” The product will be another cartoon representation similar to the honeybee or butterflies but will have seeds staggered throughout its length.

In addition to the usual Plantables inventory, the business also creates custom products. For example, the Plantables recently received a large order from reality companies in New Richmond, Wis., and Madison, Wis., to create business cards. All of the products offered by Plantables are intended to be planted and they afford an immense sustainable impact on pollinator populations.

“The work we do is a transformational thing for people with disabilities,” Schreiber said. “Our journey is one that gives people a lot of hope.”

Plantables strives to create and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Schreiber and Klyczek both view their work with Plantables as filling a need in the community as well as hope that other individuals pioneer similar ways to make a huge difference in both the special needs community and sustainable efforts.

For more information on Plantables mission, products or ways to volunteer, contact Jim Schreiber at plantablesllc@gmail.com or visit www.plantables.net.