Our industry has an image problem — and it’s our own fault. We’re too humble, and we just don’t talk enough to the public about how great we are. What’s worse, we won’t stick up for ourselves, either, or correct others when they make derogatory or inaccurate statements about our industry or products. As Sarah Cathcart, Longwood Gardens’ Vice President of Education, said during the Seed Your Future Leadership Meeting in February, “Horticulturists are a rare breed because we are secretive and tend to avoid self-promotion. This may lead to extinction in modern society.”
She couldn’t be more accurate.
That is changing through the efforts of industry initiatives like Seed Your Future, a movement to promote awareness of horticulture and horticultural careers, and the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH), a stakeholder partnership with the goal to increase the percentage of U.S. households participating in consumer horticulture to 90% by 2025. This spring, Seed Your Future will launch its new natural science curriculum in middle school classrooms nationwide. Its efforts to promote careers in horticulture to a broader audience are ongoing. Meanwhile, NICH is supplying free #PlantsDoThat infographics to the industry to help promote horticultural products. They are the perfect complement for helping consumers see plants as essential to everyday life.
It’s a good time for these organizations to be developing tools to promote the industry, too, as it seems that teachers, parents, retailers, and consumers in general are receptive to our messaging, and are even seeking out information pertaining to our products. “Forest-washing”; consumers seeking outdoor adventures to make memories as a replacement for possessions; the buy-, eat-, drink-local and clean-eating movements; and addictive houseplant and succulent plant collecting trends, are all positive indicators that consumers want more green in their lives, and we’re primed to give it to them.
One area that needs work is in communicating efforts toward sustainable production with retail customers and end consumers. At Meister Media Worldwide’s 2018 Biocontrols USA West Conference & Expo in San Diego, CA, in March, we heard from a panel of experts about how retailers and consumers are driving the market demand for more sustainable products. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey, sustainability is important for more than half of consumers. The organic trend, which has doubled every year since the late 90s, has fueled the rapid increase in the use of biopesticides, growing at a rate of 14% to 17% annually, but biocontrols as part of integrated pest management is the real goal, since organic is not likely to feed the increasing population. In Europe, sustainability is more important to consumers than organic-labeled products.
The Sustainability Consortium, an organization that represents dozens of retailers nationwide, is in the process of developing a Sustainability Dashboard to help facilitate more conversation between retailers and suppliers, and improve farm-to-consumer messaging with better packaging, so consumers can see that their sustainability concerns are being addressed.
Perhaps there is potential for our industry to provide talking points for growers to promote sustainable production efforts. Consumers are obviously listening, and they’re waiting for us to provide transparency. So it’s not exactly bragging — it’s simply and humbly speaking the truth.