Stephanie Whitehouse Takes Her Passion for Plants to Dickman Farms

Stephanie WhitehouseStephanie Whitehouse, who has spent the last seven years as the Sales and Marketing Director for Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, PA, has a new role. She recently joined Dickman Farms Greenhouse and Garden Center in Auburn, NY, as the company’s new Retail General Manager.

Whitehouse is no stranger to the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, having grown up in Skaneateles, NY, and attending Cornell University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Plant Sciences and Weed Ecology, respectively.

“I am blessed to return to one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” Whitehouse says. “There’s nothing quite like the views and crystal blue water of the Finger Lakes.”

“Stephanie brings a wealth of industry and horticultural knowledge to her new position and a passion for connecting plants with people,” says Dickman Farms owner Dave Dickman. “We are fortunate that her move back to the area in which she grew up offers us the opportunity to collaborate in the growth and expansion of our retail business.”

Greenhouse Grower magazine recently caught up with Whitehouse, who discussed her early passion for horticulture and how she will carry it into her new role at Dickman.

Greenhouse Grower (GG): How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?

Stephanie Whitehouse: While there were many skills I acquired while working in my previous position that prepared me for the role as Retail General Manager at Dickman Farms Garden Center, I learned a great deal about our industry first in college and graduate school. As an undergraduate at Cornell University, I worked as an intern for the Horticulture Trial Gardens under Dr. Bill Miller. Every summer, Cornell would host the Seeley Conference, a think-tank style gathering of the best and brightest minds in the horticulture industry. As a trial garden intern, I and the other students were permitted to listen in on the meetings. During the break sessions and meals, the students mingled with the industry leaders and picked their brains about the day’s discussion. I learned how to network at these cocktail hours and dinners. Looking back, I now think Dr. Miller allowed his interns to participate because the attendees wanted to pick our brains as the industry’s next generation.

It was at the Seeley Conference and the Ohio Floricultural Association’s Short Course where I realized the horticulture industry is more than just the makings of a beautiful garden, and gained my initial education on all the different segments and moving parts of our ever-changing industry. I still have the notes on the observations and “what-if” ideas I took during those conferences, and referenced one notebook last week in preparation for a meeting with my retail senior management team at Dickman Farms.

As the Sales & Marketing Manager for Peace Tree Farm, I had the opportunity to work closely with our independent garden center buyers and public garden curators. I forged a few great relationships where we shared ideas on how to promote Peace Tree Farm’s brands, while in turn reaching a larger consumer audience to help sell more plants. While I didn’t work at the garden center or public garden, I felt I was in the trenches with the retailers, helping them reach their goals for spring. Every year we also participated in several rare plant sales and events both at the greenhouses and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. We used these as a barometer of what new trends were appearing for gardening and outdoor living to later drive our variety selections for the upcoming season.

Every day at the greenhouse, especially during the craziness of spring, my objective was to make sure Peace Tree was always striving to supply our customers with the best product we could grow and presenting ourselves as the go-to source for innovation and creativity. This strive for excellence and innovation is what our team at Dickman Farms Garden Center is already working on for Spring 2017.

GG: What are the biggest challenges this industry is currently facing? Conversely, what are some of the biggest opportunities on the horizon?

Whitehouse: I’m a big picture thinker and a problem solver, so I always see challenges as opportunities for improvement and greatness. While it has been a topic of discussion for several years, the rebranding of our industry and “gardening” is now getting traction. We as breeders, growers, and retailers are finally beginning to communicate effectively with consumers who certainly don’t garden the same as they did in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ve wiped away our tears from the loss of “the good ol’ days” and acknowledged that there are many ways to garden, and that’s ok; in fact, it’s great. At Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Summit, we spoke at length about how poorly our industry does at telling our story and the benefit of plants. However, I do believe we are approaching the time when our industry can (finally) unify and work together, because when all is said and done, I honestly believe that we all just want to make the world a happier and greener place.

There are many amazing efforts happening in our industry right now (Seed Your Future, National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture, Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, SHIFT) that are working toward the goal of promoting horticulture. I’m excited to see what happens in the next three years.

GG: Looking ahead, what role can you play in moving this industry forward?

Whitehouse: I gained a great deal of education and insight from industry leaders during the early stages of my career. I am so very grateful for the encouragement and behind-the-scenes help from these connections. I know I would not be where I am today without the encouragement from these role models and colleagues to participate and share my ideas for change. That is why I have felt so strongly about giving back to the industry by encouraging younger professionals and those new to the horticulture industry through my volunteer work with AmericanHort’s GenNext Community, the GROW Summit, and the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH). Incorporating plants into consumers’ everyday lives has always been my passion, and I’m excited to continue sharing my ideas and strategies on this effort with Dickman Farms.

GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?

Whitehouse: I don’t believe not working in the horticulture industry was ever a possibility. My decision to go into horticulture was made at a very early age. I always use my first time visiting the “Living with the Land” pavilion at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT when I was 10 as my horticulture origin story, but I know my love for the environment and plants sparked well before then. My roots in agriculture and nature were firmly established during trips to my family’s farm in southern Vermont as a toddler. The choices in courses I took and extracurricular activities I participated in as early as my pre-teen years were all focused on the dream of a career working with plants in some form. Late in middle school, I set my sights on attending Cornell University for Plant Science, with the original career path of research and development for Monsanto. It was my classes and internships with Miller and attending the Seeley Conference that firmly set my passion for gardening and the horticulture industry.

In hindsight, I know my career path would never have ended at Monsanto. While I might have been the most stylish and fashionable gal in a lab coat, I was miserable spending four hours staring into a microscope or filtering soil substrates in soil chemistry and botany lab classes. My love for the outdoors and getting my hands dirty, the art of horticulture, and how just the right mixture of colors and textures can stimulate the senses, and my constant strategizing of the next big thing for the gardening world would (as it has) always reign supreme.

Call me crazy, but I honestly believe I’m working in the industry the universe and its forces have always intended for Stephanie Eileen Whitehouse. Either that, or I’d be a ballerina. Like all three-year-old girls who love pink, tutus, and dancing.

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