January 17, 2021

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Home Improvement

Grow Hub set to expand garden space to aid employees

David Banes, 62, is the driving force behind Grow Hub’s new project that supports people with intellectual disabilities at the dinner table.  

Grow Hub is a Gainesville-based organization that provides retail training, plant education and employment for adults with intellectual disabilities. Grow Hub was established in 2016 to meet a critical need faced by local students of varying abilities. 

The organization has a new project under construction: a freshly renovated garden that will supply fruit, vegetables and herbs to Grow Hub employees, who may not be able to go to the store on their own due to their disability. 

Banes, transition specialist for Alachua County Public Schools, oversees the vocational training for high school students with disabilities.

After graduating high school, the students can continue to develop their skills at Grow Hub as an employee. 

The development of the herb and produce garden will take several months to complete as renovations, construction and fundraising take place. The goal is to have planting underway by early spring, Banes said. 

The renovation is taking place on Grow Hub’s property at 2900 NE Eighth Ave. Banes brought in two University of Florida student organizations to assist with the site’s renovation: Project Makeover and Astra. They began work in late October.

Project Makeover and Astra are service organizations at the University of Florida that concentrate on projects in the Gainesville community. 

Daphne Blessing, 21, a fourth-year visual art studies major at UF, is the project manager for Project Makeover.

The Project Makeover team plans to prep the space for further construction work to be done before planting.  

“We will be getting our hands dirty, transferring plants out of this garden area to another location, clearing away equipment and laying down landscaping fabric,” Blessing said.

Eighteen people, divided into two groups, will make up the Project Makeover team. Due to COVID-19, the number of people will be restricted because of social-distancing guidelines. 

“Project Makeover is very excited to help Grow Hub,” Blessing said. “They have donated plants to our landscaping team in years past, so it will be nice to give back to them this way.”

Grow Hub has forged relationships throughout the community between Alachua County residents and the university’s students. But Banes said getting exposure for the group is tough.

“You’re not going to drive by and see us, and it generates interest for you to come in,” Banes said. “We are literally hidden in the middle of nowhere behind schools.”

Banes said he hopes the new project generates growth for Grow Hub.

“That’s the hardest thing now,” Banes said, “is that you think social media gets to everyone, but it doesn’t. It is hard sometimes to get this information out to everyone and let everyone know what is going on.” 

The new garden project will provide Grow Hub’s employees with the ability to continue developing their vocational skills, while being supported at the dinner table.

“It’s almost like that thousand-piece puzzle,” Banes said. “If you do not put every piece together right, it just does not work.” 

Gardening tools and plants on land.

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