Rockledge Gardens partners with Eastern Florida State College
Photo credit: Denise Crawley.
Seth Rhodes of Rhodes Roots speaking to EFSC Greenhouse Management Students

Rockledge Gardens partners with Eastern Florida State College

Beekeeping, hydroponics and horticultural research credits will be offered through the partnership.

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On Aug. 24, 2017, Rockledge Gardens received an email that would open up an exciting opportunity for the business. The email was from “entomologist and beekeeper turned teacher” Amanda Rose Newton, who was looking to develop a partnership with the gardens to encourage her students' interest in creating a pollinator garden at the high school where she was teaching at the time. Newton had just relocated to Florida from Washington D.C. to work on her PhD in STEM Education at the Florida Institute of Technology. Newton got right to work developing partnerships that would benefit her students.

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Now, Newton is running the Horticulture program at Eastern Florida State College (EFSC) and moonlights at Rockledge Gardens on Sundays as a member of the 60-year-old garden center’s team of Information and Education Specialists. Not only has she revolutionized staff education at Rockledge Garden, but she’s also worked alongside her EFSC colleague Scott Herber in developing a partnership with Rockledge Gardens to utilize 5 acres of land across the street from Rockledge Gardens as a “living classroom” or learning garden.

Newton and her EFSC students are wrapping up a summer semester that has included Greenhouse Operations and Management as well as Introduction to Horticulture 2. Currently, students are working with the Rileys and Rockledge Gardens Staff and Customer Service Manager Seth Rhodes (who is also using a portion of the land for his own greenhouse growing operation, Rhodes Roots) to maintain the current fruit trees planted on the property. Students must submit a design of the area using current plantings and platt with additions as a final project. Over the course of eight weeks, students learn how to install trees, prune, troubleshoot irrigation, use equipment like mowers, fertilizer spreaders, backpack sprayers, and weed-eaters, and also touch on the basics of orchard management.

An exciting new addition for fall is Beekeeping! This course teaches students the principles of beekeeping, the year in the life of a beekeeper, bee biology, assessing bee health, how to operate bee equipment, how to process goods from the hive, and how to do minor repairs. The final "lab practical" involves students successfully lighting a smoker, entering a hive, and identifying workers, drones, and the queen.

Also new this fall, a Horticulture Research credit. This course is an independent study where students select a topic of interest (this fall students will be working with beneficial insects and attempting to establish an insectary) and present at EFSC’s Undergraduate Research Exhibition.

Finally, next summer Newton and EFSC will be implementing a hydroponics class where students will learn to build and operate a variety of alternative growing systems, addressing food security and our growing need to conserve land.

Rockledge Gardens’ benefits from this partnership in numerous ways, the chief of them being the most dynamic, exciting and values-driven use of the property since Rockledge Gardens founder Harry Witte completed the purchase of the land in the early ‘90s. Additionally, due to Rockledge Gardens’ close relationship with the college, the garden center has attracted five passionate and energetic staff members who are students in EFSC’s horticulture program. Newton is inspiring more seasoned Rockledge Gardens staffers as well. She’s working on starting a podcast with 20-year RG veteran Steve Kryzton, spearheads Rockledge Gardens’ Boozy Botanicals Bookclub, where RG team members and customers discuss horticulture-themed literature over botanically-inspired cocktails, and has even inspired Rockledge Gardens’ Managing Director to get back into the classroom.

Rockledge Gardens will also benefit from EFSC's efforts as this little section of Rockledge, centrally located on US Highway 1, cultivates an identity as Brevard County’s “Garden District.”

Rockledge Gardens and EFSC’s Horticulture Department are excited about the long-term possibilities of a relationship where each organization has so much to learn and gain from one another in their mutual quest to develop the people who will make the world a greener, healthier, more beautiful place.