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TCC Center for Innovation helps small businesses rebound

By: Channing Frampton

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Despite the challenges of the pandemic, small companies in the Big Bend are thriving thanks to new partnerships designed to help veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in our community.

“Building a business is really hard,” explained Michele Madison. She is founder and CEO of Farming the Future. Madison planted the seed for that company in 2016. They develop science programs for K through 12 schools.

“Instead of kids just reading out of a textbook,” Madison explained, “they get to do hands-on, fun agricultural learning.”

That idea was cut short by the pandemic. To keep growing, Madison took her business online. “We had to very quickly speed up our progress on that,” she added.

While technology presents its own set of challenges, Madison said when asking for help, “being a woman, I’m overlooked constantly. I’m not taken seriously.”

Enter Scott Balog with the Tallahassee Community College Center for Innovation.

“We’re developing novel partnerships that can attract and bring in more resources to support veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in our community,” Balog said.

Those partnerships include Thaddeus Hammond. He is an Economic Development Specialist with the Small Business Administration. “We’re just happy we can help, and we’re always here to assist when needed,” Hammond told ABC 27.

In addition, Synapse, a nonprofit serving Florida’s vast and talented innovation community, is working to connect Big Bend business with the rest of the state.

“Our objective is to make it much easier to connect across geography and empower innovators to find what they need and share what they have,” shared Lauren Prager, Vice President of Community Engagement with Synapse.

Together, TCC, SBA and Synapse are working to help people like Madison find help.

“The biggest hurdle we’ve seen since the pandemic began is access to capital,” Hammond added.

Despite the challenges, Prager said, “the pandemic has created opportunities for all of us to re-imagine and innovate.”

Madison said she’s grateful for the support. “Being able to have the support and the people around you to help you makes such a big difference.”

Using the new partnerships, she’s able to take this science and put it online so even more kids can learn and rebound for years to come.

The SBA has paycheck protection loans available for businesses through March 31st. Synapse just wrapped up a major online conference connecting businesses from Tallahassee and beyond.

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Farming The Future leadership – Meera Jagroop

Meera Jagroop is a museum educator specializing in science interpretation and exhibit design.

During her ten years as a science educator, she has developed programs, interpretation, and exhibitions for all ages. Including at Cleveland Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The American Museum of Natural History, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Ms. Jagroop has represented institutions at conferences around the country. Presenting on topics ranging from engaging caregivers of young learners to gardening programs for children with disabilities. She also participated in the design and oversees the new Discovery Garden. This is a one-acre, accessible, hands-on garden in Brooklyn, NY.

Meera has an M.S.Ed in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education. As well as a B.S. in Natural History and Interpretation from SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry.

She currently lives in Brooklyn. And is passionate about teaching about nature, botany, and gardening in urban environments.

On top of being a steward of the environment and education, Meera is a kind and detail oriented leader.

One of her best skills is listening and interpreting the road blocks that some students experience. Ms. Jagroop has a special ability to present ideas in different ways. Each one breaking through to a different student.

“I love connecting people of all ages with the natural world, especially in urban environments. I hope to provide others with the same empowering experiences with science and nature that have helped shape and expand my own world. I’m passionate about working towards environmental justice, integrating science with the arts, creating accessible programs and spaces, and uplifting traditional ecological knowledge.”

Recent exhibits for children and families include: At Home In Winter: Birds of BBG, Chinese Caribbean Plants, Planting a Hummingbird Garden, Predatory Plants, and Where Did Plants Come From? (Plant Evolution)

Meera is a hands on educator and has a particular love for working with younger elementary students. Her favorite program is Prek-2nd grade 10×10 Full year Raised Garden Science Program. Check it out HERE!

You can also find out more about the Discovery Garden HERE!

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What a Garden Can Do for Your School

Having a school garden can be one of the best things you can implement at your school for many reasons. From science education to healthy living having a school garden can change the lives of the students at your school. Making them strong, smart, and environmentally conscious adults in the future.

School Garden Educational Benefits

The first and most obvious benefit of having a school garden is the important and powerful educational impact. It will impact your students and your school. By having a school garden, students can actually see the science in action and can have the ability to participate in hands-on activities. Going out into the garden transforms the school experience from being a passive learning environment to an active one. The kids will learn natural science by growing vegetables. Plus learn responsibility taking care of the garden rather than sitting in a classroom doing worksheets.

There will be an increased motivation to learn. Not only because your students will be able to go outside, but also because they engaged in a rewarding and creative process. Through their education they get the ability to grow something and then harvest it once its ripe. These small experiences and teaching moments can be game-changing for students. Specifically for those who learn more effectively through hands-on methods. Also, research has shown that this type of learning has vastly improved test scores for schools.

Social Skills & Community Centered Benefits From School Gardens

Another benefit of having a school garden is the ability for your students to work together. Not to mention, grow together, and engage in enriching and fulfilling activities. A school garden will not only teach patience, but also dedication to seeing their work (gardening their vegetables) to their end. The students have to be committed to their garden. Because it will be in part their own work, they will want to be. The students will communicate, form bonds, and learn teamwork skills through gardening.

Also, by growing their own food, they are able to eat it after. Sharing it with their fellow peers, friends, and family. This alone builds a strong sense of community with your students. It can also inspire them to think of others and have a real sense of pride from sharing their hard and rewarding work. Your students will learn their role and their impact in the lives of others. Plus how they can make a real difference to those around them.

School Gardens & Healthy Habits 

As mentioned before, your students will be able to eat the very vegetables that they have grown. Not only is this so fulfilling for your students, but it also engrains healthy lifestyle habits. By having a school garden, you are teaching them how to grow their own food. This will follow them throughout their lives. They will gain an appreciation for eating healthy foods because it is their own and delicious. Your students can carry this love of healthy eating and sustainable growing into their adult life. It will also improve the quality of food being served in your school’s cafeteria. There are so many long lasting benefits that come from having a school garden.

Environmentally Conscious Students

The sustainability taught through gardening is existentially important. With the present climate crisis, teaching the youth of today the importance of respecting our planet is a necessary step in preserving their lives and our planets future. Your students will learn the significance of taking care of the Earth and in turn taking care of themselves. They will gain a respect for nature because they are literally taking part in it. And in ways that they may not have access to at home. This awareness of the way nature works and how they can have an impact on it is essentially important in cultivating stewards for the environment.

Learning the natural science and biological education provided with gardens. Plus their team-building skills, and their healthy lifestyle habits, your students will pave the way for the future of environmentalism.

Want A School Garden? What’s Next?

School gardens will change the lives of your students and your community in so many ways. If you have decided that a garden is right for your school, then Farming the Future has the resources that will help you get on your way. You can go to our page (HERE) for more information on how to raise funds to get your school garden up and running. Stay tuned for more tips and advice on gardening, science education, and more!

Looking for more? Check out this great resource for free and easy lesson plans! (HERE)