OFA President Danny Takao has heard the theory before and he scoffs at it. The theory: “Wait until they reach the right age and they will start buying our plants,” he says.
But the wait-and-they-will-come approach is a risky one, Takao says, and the majority of the readers (84 percent) we polled last month agree. They say our industry can’t afford to sit back and bank its future on kids who currently have no interest in gardening.
“You have to go and get them early,” says Susan Petak of Wessel’s Farms. “Once they are in their teens and 20s, I think you’ve pretty much lost them to what has caught their interest, whether it’s a sport or just being a couch potato.”
Still, there’s the minority that argues our industry shouldn’t bother worrying about our future consumers because we’ve leaned on a model that’s been a constant through generations: As kids grow up, they become homeowners who landscape their yards and naturally become gardeners.
The model has served many in our industry well, yes, but a housing market that’s still in an unfortunate state after a recession and the early stages of a recovery begs the question of whether that model is useful in 2010 and beyond.
Even if the model does work, why are we waiting for consumers to be of the right age before we start sweating their lack of interest? Aren’t we limiting ourselves by promoting plants primarily to middle-aged women and grandmas.
Gardening Versus Cooking
Gardening is no doubt a great hobby and one of the most popular in the United States. But compared to another everyday around-the-house hobby like cooking, which is front and center to the American public with reality TV programs and a seemingly endless pool of celebrities, gardening has some catching up to do.
From programs like “Ace of Cakes” and “Iron Chef America” to celebrities like Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray, cooking has quickly reemerged as one of America’s favorite hobbies. Cooking is cool again, fun again and even sexy–all things gardening is and can be.
But where are our reality shows and Rachael Rays? Where is gardening’s TV network? Sure, HGTV is out there, but it devotes more air time to decorating than it actually does gardening.
“The last time I saw a true gardening show on HGTV was about five to eight years ago,” Petak says. “Now it’s all about home interiors and hardscaping.”
Even popular consumer magazines like “Better Homes & Gardens” are devoting more pages to “homes” than “gardens” these days. The space “Better Homes” devotes to gardening is so minimal, in fact, that it’s surprising “gardens” still has a place in the magazine’s name.
Gardening is making strides to get in front of a national audience, though. Within the last year, Peace Tree Farm’s Lloyd Traven and Greenhouse Grower columnist Allan Armitage have appeared on “The Martha Stewart Show.” P. Allen Smith, who’s probably the most recognizable person in our industry to consumers, has played a key role elevating gardening at the consumer level, too. Even programs for causes, like Costa Farms’ O2 For You, have been front and center on “The Today Show.”
These are great places and people with whom we can start. If we don’t start to change, we’re going to create a major disconnect between ourselves and our next consumers.