The Future of Horticulture

I’ve hired someone with a horticulture degree only one time in twenty years.

Unfortunately for the plants, two months later he moved to Colorado for the opportunity to use his cannabis education. And unfortunately for some of my clients, their eye candy left the state.  Although I had many more years of experience, even in that amount of short time, this kid showed me a couple horticulture short cuts. That was over four years ago and I now wonder how much more my business could benefit with more educated staff. Unlike traditional fields, finding employees with a horticulture degree or training is a common problem for our industry.

If you ask me why, I’d say agriculture doesn’t have the same career appeal as others such as technology. When I was a student, if you wanted to be successful you studied computers, medicine or law. As a freshmen in college, if someone told me that I would be taking care of plants inside buildings instead of becoming an attorney, I would have thought that was absurd. My second thought would have been, “Do people actually get paid to do that?” Which in fact, I have been asked several times while on the job.

If it wasn’t for a help wanted sign by the road, I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable right now taking dictation or tied to a desk for eight hours or more. To me, the general population considers the plant/flower industry more as a hobby than a fulfilling, interesting or even lucrative career. Contrary to popular belief, I know of several ornamental growers that managed to increase profits during the recession while banks, construction and reality companies went under or barely held on.

If you know someone that enjoys gardening, flower arranging, landscaping or anything involving nature, I encourage you to talk to them about pursuing an agricultural vocation. We need people like them.

Here are a couple topics to consider when talking about a career in horticulture:

Garden Clubs and 4-H

You can find a Garden Club or 4-H group in every major city and many towns across the country.  Parents, encouraging your children to get involved in a local 4-H club can create life-long friendships as well as valuable social and educational skills. While attending a county fair event, my girlfriend and I met two teenage brothers who got involved in their small town 4-H club at age ten. They were very well-spoken, polite, entertaining young men who had no problem carrying on an adult conversation with us. Because of 4-H, these boys got to travel around the state, participating in county events and both were receiving grants to pursue their education as nurserymen. It was so refreshing to meet happy teenagers who wanted to engage with live people sitting next to them, instead of having their focus continuously on a phone screen. The National Garden Club and 4-H are invaluable sources for training programs, volunteer opportunities, resource information and scholarships. For people like myself, you don’t have to be a kid, to benefit from these clubs. There are programs for adults as well as further education for experienced agriculturists. Every year the National Garden Club provides scholarships and financial aid to study horticulture, the environment, gardening, landscaping and floral design.

Scholarships

Although I’ve also been in the floral side of interiorscape, I never realized how many floral or floriculture opportunities are available. Every year, the American Floral Endowment provides over 15 million dollars in scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students in all areas of floriculture industry. To my surprise, not only does this endowment provide grants for propagation and floral design, but also for those who are only involved in the distribution, marketing and business operations of flowers. The AFE business internship grant provides a future florist the opportunity to learn human resources, accounting, logistics, graphic design, analytics and management skills so they encompass all aspects of the trade.

Experiencing the same difficulties as the interiorscape industry, Proven Winners, one of North America’s largest foliage providers, annually awards over 35K in scholarships to encourage more future horticulturists. Without good agriculture producers, our industry suffers. Any student in a four-year university, community college or vocational school can apply before the May 1st deadline .

Besides the above question, I’m approached all the time with people interested in a job like mine. Whether you want to propagate, design, transport, market or maintain foliage, there are programs and financial aid available to help you achieve your goals. Even I never realized, there are bonsai scholarships provided by Golden State Bonsai Federation and Bonsai Societies of Florida if that’s your thing. In this modern age, agriculture isn’t one of the popular choices our youth considers as a career. In fact, I’d even go so far to say the next generation may feel it’s a totally antiquated, dirty field. Take a few scenes from two of Matt Damon’s futuristic movies, The Martian and Elysium, and you will realize just how crucial plants are for our future.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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  • Susan E Owen Yoder

    Thanks for the article Sherry! These issues are exactly why many of the leading companies, universities and associations have joined together on a national initiative called Seed Your Future. http://www.SeedYourFuture.org. Check it out!

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