Growing confidence along with fresh veggies

Buchholz High School junior Jade Claar waters herbs and other plants as a student involved in a community-based training program which helps them learn to work as a team and build job and communication skills in the gardens of the Cymply Fresh Cafe of the Cymplify Central complex in Gainesville on Monday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.

While many students were blearily making their way to second period Monday morning, five special-education students from Buchholz High were jumping into their work with zeal.

That's because they spend almost two hours every school day working in the garden at Cymply Fresh, a cafe set to open in November in the Cymplify complex, 5402 NW Eighth Ave.

The class, led by Buchholz career education teacher Ryan Sullivan and district transition specialist David Banes, started meeting at Cymplify in the last week of August.

In two months, the students have overhauled the garden, starting from scratch learning how to grow food.

The goal is twofold.

From a business and education perspective, Banes hopes to expand the program to more students and eventually have a self-sustaining garden that yields all of the produce used in Cymply Fresh, “Which is a big undertaking,” he said.

But for the students, the work is more important than a crop of vegetables.

The experience has showed them that they could be successful at gardening, even though they didn't know how to at the beginning, Banes said.

The garden is a source of pride for the students. They're also learning social skills when customers ask questions while the students are working with their plants.

And for this inaugural class especially, the garden is physical proof of the work the students put in.

“This group has worked really, really hard,” Banes said.

Arthur Seabrooks, 16, sports a wide grin when he talks about seeing the tomato plants sprouting up for the first time.

“It made me happy and confident in myself that I can grow stuff,” he said.

Arthur said he likes all the fruits and vegetables in the garden, but he's especially excited for the strawberries to start coming up in the spring.

“I cannot wait until they bloom,” he said.

One of the first tasks students tackle each morning is picking suckers from the tomato plants, which Morgan Crocker and Jade Claar were in charge of on Monday.

“It should look like a V, not (a) W,” said Morgan, 16, pointing to an extra stem on the plant before she plucked it off. The extra stems make the plant more likely to lean over and drop tomatoes before they're ripe, she explained.

The tomatoes are growing in buckets on the ground, but the rest of the produce in the garden is grown using one of two non-traditional methods.

Out in front of Cymply Fresh are half a dozen Growpols, which are vertical towers with 20 plants attached to each. The towers rotate so each plant is exposed to an equal amount of sunlight, and water is recycled through each tower so nothing is wasted.

At the back of the cafe, students grow lettuce in a hydroponic table that can produce 72 heads of lettuce a week.

Efficiency is a major focus for the project, Banes says.

A small grant from the state got the program going, and Cymplify tossed in another $2,500. Banes and Cymply Fresh owner Brad Brooks hope to raise $10,000 to keep it going.

To do that, Cymply Fresh is taking donations through its website and food truck rallies at the Cymplify complex are acting as fundraisers for the program.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship for the students and the cafe, Brooks said.

“It just seemed like a really great way to help the kids,” he said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or

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