Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
April 28, 2023 ·  4 min read

Woman with Down Syndrome Turns Green Thumb into Thriving Business

In generations past, people treated those born with a ‘birth defect’, as though they were damaged. They sent them off to be cared for or treated in facilities, rather than try to keep them at home. Once considered dark and shameful family secrets. However, as medical advances have been made, we’ve learned more about many of those defects, including Down syndrome. The results show that people learn to adapt and overcome those obstacles, including an Iowa businesswoman who turned her green thumb into a lucrative business.

An Entreprenurial Spirit

Marissa Schletzbaum from Pleasantville, Iowa, began something incredible in 2015. Her parents discovered her green thumb, that she and a passion for growing things and getting her hands dirty. As a result, they pulled their resources to help their then-high-schooler realize her dreams.

What started out as a small greenhouse, growing flowers, is now Straw Hat Farms, where Marissa also grows food. The farm is located about 30 miles outside of Des Moines, Iowa, and has become well-known throughout her community. Eight years after her dad went into early retirement, Straw Hat Farms now supplies restaurants and farmers’ markets with fresh vegetables.

Another Notable Achievement

The entrepreneur with Down Syndrome sets a powerful example for both girls and those born with disabilities to remind them that they can achieve anything. Not only has Marissa become a successful businesswoman, but she’s also made a name for herself among communities in which people are overcoming daily obstacles associated with conditions like Down Syndrome. In 2018, she was recognized as the Big 12 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year. “Eighty-five thousand people in the Texas Stadium are giving her a standing ovation. You just soak it in. But in the greenhouse, it’s that way every day. And that’s what makes it worthwhile,” Roger, her dad, said.

Down Syndrome Social Skills

Down syndrome and other birth defects have long been thought to have a negative impact on socialization and everyday functions like brushing teeth or riding a bike. However, recent studies have shown that there is range of abilities, they have that help to enhance their lives and the lives of those around them. Although some children do have behavioral issues, as they learn to navigate the world of big feelings, children born with Down Syndrome have been shown to have a deep understanding of human emotions. Studies have shown they more accurately understand body language and other social cues than many of their peers.

Information on Down Syndrome

Although many know that Down Syndrome is a birth defect, few are aware of the broad spectrum of information associated with the condition. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when a full or partial copy of Chromosome 21 is made, causing abnormality during cell division. It is the most common, “genetic chromosomal disorder” and impacts development, language, and memory. Down syndrome can also affect other parts of the body, causing gastrointestinal and heart problems and has a long list of common signs. Severity varies from person to person but here are some of the most apparent signs:

  • Flattened face
  • Small head and/or neck
  • Protruding tongue
  • Upward slanting eye lids (palpebral fissures)
  • Unusually shaped or small ears
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Broad, short hands with a single crease in the palm or short fingers and small hands and feet
  • Tiny white spots on the colored part (iris) of the eye called Brushfield’s spots

Down Syndrome is typically diagnosed before or just after birth. However, speaking openly with your doctor if you have questions or concerns is recommended. It’s also important to note that an infant may not have the aforementioned signs but can be born of average size but may not grow as quickly as children of the same age.

Accomplishments of Others

Although people with conditions like Down Syndrome were questionably treated in the past, they’ve more than proved their worth. In fact, they’ve done some incredible things when given support and the opportunity to learn and grow. Many have gone on to become University graduates, to serve as Council, and business owners. While many people with birth defects like Down Syndrome have faced discrimination, many foundations and organizations offer resources, support, and empowerment to families and individuals, overcoming these obstacles, including the Car manufacturer, Ford.

Marissa Schletzbaum had two loving and supportive parents who saw her pull potential and helped her to become a success. Despite having Down Syndrome, she’s overcome many obstacles that few people can truly understand. A simple girl from Iowa has now made a name for herself nationwide and will likely inspire a generation of entrepreneurs with down syndrome and other birth defects.

Keep Reading: Man Becomes First Graduate Of His College With Down Syndrome And Writes History


  1. ‘I am a boss’: Woman with down syndrome turns green thumb into thriving business.” KOCO. Eric Hanson. April 24, 2023.
  2. Down syndrome.” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 27, 2023.