For three class periods a day, instead of taking notes and listening to lectures, five Buchholz High School students spend their time growing produce at Cymplify Central.
The vegetables they grow will eventually be served at Cymply Fresh, a café opening in mid-November. The restaurant, at 5408 NW 8th Ave. in Gainesville, will serve fresh food, including sandwiches, salads and soups, according to owner Brad Brooks.
The students are part of the Growing Education Training program, which is a branch of Alachua County’s Community Based Vocational Education program. It is designed to provide job skills to high school students.
There are about 80 students at 65 different work sites, said David Banes, district transition specialist.
The students are responsible for all aspects of the gardening process, said Ryan Sullivan, career education teacher. They dug up the area and planted the vegetables. Now, they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the area.
They grow lettuce, parsley, tomatoes and strawberries.
Sullivan said students are also developing skills beyond gardening, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving.
“We try to put them where they might possibly be hired, where we think they will be successful,” Banes said. “Self-esteem goes a long way.”
Once the restaurant opens, the students will be involved in the business by writing invoices and paying bills to sell the fruits and vegetables they grow.
The money earned from selling the crops will go back into maintaining the program.
The goal is to have the students see what it is like to produce something, sell it and start over again, Banes said.
The gardening methods are meant to be as efficient as possible to save water.
Gropoles, which are poles that have plants attached to them, are used to grow different kinds of crops. The poles rotate to allow each plant to get an equal amount of sunlight and are hooked up so the plants are watered for one minute every hour.
Students use an NFT table to grow different kinds of lettuce. The table can be used to grow 72 heads of lettuce a week.
The students said they enjoy the unique structure of this job-skills class.
“I like that we’re outdoors,” said junior Morgan Crocker. “We’re not stuck inside 24/7.”
At the beginning of the school year, the students learned that growing produce could be difficult.
“At first it was hard. I wanted to quit at the first day.” said sophomore Arthur Seabrooks. “The thing that was hard was getting in the dirt and digging holes. A lot of people like to say, ‘I don’t want to be in the mud or the dirt or anything,’ but you sometimes have to get down and dirty.”
When the vegetables started growing, the students were excited to see their hard work pay off.
“I stayed for this class when I’d seen the first plant,” Seabrooks said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we grew this. I’m sticking with it.’”
Cymplify Central will host a food truck rally that will feature music from Ricky Kendall & the Healers on Friday. A portion of the money raised will go toward the Growing Education Training program.
Samples of food that will be served at Cymply Fresh will be available at the rally, including produce grown by the students.
The goal is to eventually raise $12,000 for the program, according to Banes. Currently, $3,000 has been raised.
Banes said he hopes they will be able to expand the Growing Education Training program in future years to include more students from different high schools and to eventually have a greenhouse for the students to work in.