A field in Waxahachie has become home this spring to over a million tulips, tended by budding gardeners who just happen to have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Each day, Michael Poston and Riley Niesen, both 23, work at Poston Gardens, a farm next to Daymark Living, an upscale, resort-style community for adults with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
Niesen, who has autism, patrols the parking lot with a walkie-talkie, greeting visitors and helping with tours. In the process, he’s “fallen in love with the gardens,” said his mother, Davila Niesen.
“Within a day or two of its opening, he was hooked,” Davila Niesen said. “He wants to go and volunteer at the gardens every day and is generally there from the time it opens till the time it closes. He says, ‘Mr. Poston needs me at the gardens.'”
John Poston, Michael’s father and the founder of Daymark Living, started the tulip farm after he grew frustrated with companies that wouldn’t hire people like his son, who has Down syndrome.
“They would not hire people with IDD,” he said, “and I was trying to think of how best to get exposure for Daymark Living and the residents.”
Envisioning a 60-acre, pay-as-you-pick tulip farm, Poston made a few trips to Holland last year to find the right experts to help him realize his dream — but he’d find his point man a lot closer to home.
Luke Tamminga, a Holland native and farmer in Waxahachie, helped Poston and his team get the bulbs in the ground in time for the gardens’ debut last month.
“It brings me joy to make others smile,” Tamminga said. “I sincerely think Poston Gardens and Daymark have the ability to support each other emotionally and financially in many ways.”
A portion of the farm’s profits fund scholarships for Daymark residents like Riley Niesen.
Shortly after Niesen moved from Plano to Waxahachie, his family followed him, enjoying a “different pace of life” in Ellis County and getting a closeup look at Riley’s success.
“His sense of responsibility around his volunteering at Poston Gardens, maintaining his own cottage and developing his plan around how a vocational job will intertwine with his life at Daymark continue to grow each day,” Davila Niesen said.
That’s just what John Poston had in mind when he thought up the farm, as a place where people like his son could bloom amid the tulips.
“Struggles begin when you put a limit on what you think someone with IDD can do,” Poston said. “They will impress you for the rest of your life if you just put them in a position to grow.”