DADE CITY — It takes a lot of helping hands to make a business grow. Take one look at the colorful blooms in the Mickens' Pickins greenhouse and it's clear that the students in the Exceptional Student Education program at Moore-Mickens Education Center are up to task.
They've been tending to their horticultural endeavor for a few months now, from planting seeds, to transplanting them into individual pots, to carting them inside under the threat of a freeze, to getting them ready for sale.
There's money to be earned with those plants — money that will help expand the school-based business that provides on-the-job training to students like Jon Reed, 20, who likes going to work.
"It's a very hot job — I'll tell you, it's very hot," said Reed as he transplanted ageratum sprouts with Angelica Tull, 20, and Cassie Greene, 21, while Jake Johnson, 19, and Kate-lyn Trevor, 22, filled 4-inch pots with soil. "But part of doing a good job is being good to your boss, doing what your boss tells you."
Mickens' Pickins has gotten grant funding from Florida Ag in the Classroom, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Pasco Education Foundation Inc. The local Lowe's and Walmart stores have also donated plant trays. But the enterprise has also generated funding through plant sales held at the school, and more recently, at the Dade City Garden Club's Blooming Art Show held this past Saturday.
"Last year we raised enough money to buy a 12- by 16-foot toolshed," said Mary Lou Jordan, who oversees the school-based horticulture business along with a seasonal greeting card business. "We really needed one because all our tools are rusting."
So far it's been a bountiful season for the gardeners who are now seeing the fruits of their labor: zinnias, amaryllis, salvia, pansies, geraniums, gerbera daisies and marigolds bursting yellow and deep red, all ready for transplanting into someone's home garden.
"This one is my favorite," said Dustin Chancey, 21, randomly holding up a potted marigold as he gave a guided tour.
There will be more to come as the students continue to make their twice- daily treks out to the greenhouse in preparation for another school sale to be held sometime in May, before Mother's Day. With hundreds of annuals going for 50 cents each and geraniums and amaryllises for $2, there's sure to be more cash coming in.
"Okay, let's get these babies into the pots," Jordan instructed her students as they transplanted a new tray of ageratum seedlings into 4-inch pots. "Fifty cents, 50 cents, 50 cents," she said, counting them off as they were done. "You do the math."