By Wendy Jo Moyer
Many of us know Javier Garces as the plant guy. Yes, plants are his thing; but he’s a people guy too. He’s inspired by our students, the opportunity to change their lives for the better and giving back to the residents of our community.
Javier, professor, biology and horticulture and program chair for the Plant Science and Agricultural Technology (PSAT) program, joined Valencia in 2009. In this role, he guides the horticulture program, which prepares students for a variety of horticulture-based careers, many of which are in Florida. He teaches a long list of courses including Environmental Science, Introduction to Plant Science, Greenhouse Operations and Management, Plant Pathology, Plant Physiology and Plant Propagation.
“I also see myself as a facilitator, he shared. “I try to help others accomplish their professional/academic goals.”
In his nine years with the College, Javier has made quite an impact. The PSAT program has grown, and he’s helped add two specializations to the program, Landscape and Horticulture, and is working on adding another in Sustainable Agriculture.
“I am proud that we have been able to more than double enrollment in our program,” he explained, adding that, when he joined the team in 2009, the program had approximately 60 students. Today, it has about 160 students.
In addition, he has initiated leasing a rooftop hydroponic and aquaponic garden, located in Winter Garden — a 3,000-square-foot garden that features, besides gardens, 1,500-gallon tanks of fish and a retractable ceiling and walls to enable the team to filter sunlight and protect plants from wind and cold temperatures. This facility offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the future of agriculture.
Javier’s work at Valencia and his commitment to helping those in our community is being noticed. “Javier has been an inspiration as we continue to grow our small-but-mighty Plant Science and Agricultural Technology A.S. degree program,” shared Javier’s supervisor Bob Gessner, dean, science. “Managing our Winter Garden Aquaponics facility, our West Campus greenhouse and a newly planned small demonstration farm next to the greenhouse, Javier has been working tirelessly, reaching out to Orange County Public Schools’ agriculture programs and community partners to make his program blossom.”
Javier says that what he loves about Valencia is that it “is a very open work environment where we are encouraged to be creative and dream big.” And he has certainly dreamed big. For example, his work with the Edgewood Children’s Ranch, a residential program for troubled youth, ages 6 to 17 years of age, and the Central Care Mission, an all-male, long-term residential drug and alcohol program. He implemented both of these programs to provide opportunities for his students to learn, while helping those in our community.
“At the ranch, we set up approximately one acre of land for food production,” he said of Edgewood Children’s Ranch, which is no longer in operation. “This was beneficial for our students to get the hands-on training in food production that they need and for the children who reside at the ranch to gain a better understanding of where food comes from.” This is remarkable as Javier was training not only Valencia students, but the children’s ranch students at the same time, empowering them with useful skills that they could use in a future career.
This children’s ranch project also grew into a community-supported agriculture cooperative, which is a popular way for consumers to purchase local, seasoned food from the farm. Proceeds from the produce sales supported the children’s ranch to maintain the facility and provide additional opportunities for its youth.
The other project near and dear to Javier is his work with the Central Care Mission, which has 36 box gardens that he, along with his students and men at the facility, plant, maintain and harvest. All of the food at Central Care Mission goes to feed the men and staff who live at the facility.
Javier earned a Bachelor of Science in general horticulture and a Doctor of Plant Medicine from the University of Florida. When he’s not teaching, working with plants or helping our community, he enjoys spending time with his family, especially at the beach.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.