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PETALUMA -- Buckelew Programs, a non-profit behavioral health organization that provides jobs and training for people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, has leased over 18,000 square feet of space near East Washington and North McDowell Boulevard where it will open its newest location, People's Harvest.

The new location, a fresh cut food processing center, will be Buckelew's fourth "social enterprise," and will create jobs for people who have experienced barriers to employment, according to Steve Ramsland, executive director for the San Rafael-based nonprofit. People's Harvest also aims to help local farmers by providing a hub for their produce that will be provided to local schools and hospitals.

The nonprofit has raised $900,000 of the $1.1 million needed to open and run the new venture for the next 18 months, Mr. Ramsland said, adding that significant support came from the Marin Community Foundation and the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, or REDF, a San Francisco-based venture philanthropy organization.

[caption id="attachment_42248" align="alignright" width="220" caption="The People's Harvest Management team includes (clockwise from top left): Buckelew Programs Executive Director Steve Ramsland, Shelley Norris-Alvarez and Leticia Wiesner of Buckelew Employment Services, Enterprise Manager Michael Paik, and Marketing and Sales Consultant Marie Bianco."][/caption]

"People's Harvest is a win-win for our clients, local growers, schools and hospitals," Mr. Ramsland said.

Construction is planned for this fall and winter, and Buckelew expects doors to open at 1297 Dynamic Way next April. The nonprofit plans on including "state-of-the-art green components" such as solar power and waste composting.

Buckelew, which operates similar enterprises in Marin and Napa counties, intends on hiring 15 people for its Sonoma County location initially. Another 10 will by added by spring and up to 50 more will be hired as the business grows, the nonprofit said. Positions include sales, sorting, grading, cutting, packaging, labeling, clerical services and quality control, among others.

"We look forward to People's Harvest locating in Petaluma and providing much needed jobs and training in the food processing industry," said Ingrid Alverde, economic development manager for the City of Petaluma.

Carla Javits, president of REDF, said People's Harvest is a potential model for distributing local produce.

"We know this is a very special opportunity because not only will it create many job opportunities for the people Buckalew assists, but it is also the prototype for a business model that we believe has the potential for growth and replication given the increasing demand by schools, hospitals and other institutions for fresh, local produce," Ms. Javits said.

The nonprofit said farmers, produce buyers and community activists have been searching for a cost-effective way to ensure locally-grown produce be distributed to local residents. People's Harvest is one effective method, according to Bob Corshen, director of local foods systems for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

"As a fresh cut processor and aggregation point for local produce, People's Harvest opens a path into the value added distribution chain for farmers," he said.

Produce growers told Buckelew that the Petaluma location was the most ideal for demographic, operational and financial considerations, according to Michael Paik, enterprise manager of People's Harvest.

Buckelew operates Blue Skies Coffees & Teas in San Rafael and Napa, as well as a Blue Skies Cleaning Services, in addition to clinical programs. The nonprofit, founded in 1970, had revenues of $10.2 million for the fiscal year ending June 30,2011. It has 180 employees across the three-county region.

For information on employment, contact Buckelew Employment Services at (415) 456-9350. Schools, hospitals or farmers interested can contact Mr. Paik at (415) 827-1304 or Sales & Marketing Manager Marie Bianco at (707) 338-7907.

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Correction: The Oct. 17 print edition of this story misspelled Buckelew.