Cultivate’19 to Feature Workshop Aimed at HR Professionals in Horticulture Businesses

Cultivate’19 to Feature Workshop Aimed at HR Professionals in Horticulture Businesses

cross-train-your-staff-on-labelsOne of the Saturday workshops taking place at Cultivate’19 will focus specifically on human resources (HR)-related issues. Designed for horticulture HR, safety professionals, and green business owners, the “It’s All About the Workforce” workshop is for those who source, recruit, onboard, and train employees. Topics to be covered include H-2A reform, recruiting and engaging seasonal labor, and creating a culture of safety in the workplace. The highly interactive seminar that will promote sharing of lessons learned and successes in attracting and keeping a well-trained labor force.

The concept of this workshop actually originated at the CareerUP workshop during Cultivate’18. During that event, HR managers Margaret Whealdon of Washington-based Smith Gardens and Julie Zeijlmaker of Battlefield Farms in Virginia struck up a conversation about how HR professionals in the horticulture industry might be able to network with each other and address some of their common concerns. After a year of follow-up conference calls, the result is this new workshop.


Greenhouse Grower caught up with Whealdon and Zeijlmaker and asked them what attendees can expect to learn at the workshop.

Greenhouse Grower (GG): Please explain how this year’s HR workshop came about?

Margaret Whealdon: Julie and I met at CareerUP last year at Cultivate’18 and were really struck by how similar our challenges are in this industry. The seasonal nature of our workforce, labor cost increases and shortages, safety and training, and legal frameworks for bringing in seasonal labor from Mexico and other countries all require very specialized approaches for the HR Manager and company owners as well. We decided to start talking once a month on an agreed-upon topic, and through word of mouth and the support of AmericanHort, we now have a group of HR folks on the call every month.

Julie Zeijlmaker: At the Cultivate’18 CareerUP event, each speaker really focused on the importance of networking, mentorship, and career growth. I hadn’t really thought much about networking before this event. I always associated networking with job searching and building superficial professional relationships. Meeting Margaret was a clarifying moment, and during the conference we began cultivating the idea that we could make a positive impact for the industry. There have been difficult situations in my career where I just wished I had another HR person to turn to and hear their advice or experiences. It was really refreshing to meet another HR leader in the horticultural industry and to not feel alone with the specific issues that we deal with in this industry. We felt compelled to share this experience and to benefit other HR leaders by creating a monthly conference call and growing our network. Our calls have covered a variety of topics including compliance, recruitment, employee retention, benefits, and training. We have had great speakers such as Craig Regelbrugge from AmericanHort, Michael Marsh from the National Council of Agricultural Employers, and many others. AmericanHort has been really supportive of this networking group from the beginning, and the opportunity came up to host a workshop at Cultivate’19. We are extremely excited to have this opportunity to meet other HR leaders in our industry, build valuable relationships, and share information that will create best practices and increase the success of our organizations and the industry as a whole.

GG: What can attendees expect to learn at the workshop?

Whealdon: At the workshop, we’ll have experienced experts talking about safety, H-2A labor compliance, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. We are also planning to have round table discussions on topics such as recruiting and retaining, creative incentives for employees, language and communication challenges, E-Verify, and more.

Zeijlmaker: I will add to Margaret’s statement that this is an interactive event, and attendees will get out what they put in. Don’t expect to sit down and be bored by another lecture or to go around aimlessly shaking hands and passing out business cards. This is a time to learn from the professionals, problem solve, and build profound professional relationships.

GG: What is the most important takeaway you hope attendees of the workshop will return to their offices with?

Whealdon: That there are other HR professionals in the horticulture and greenhouse industries that you can meet and can call or email.

Zeijlmaker: They will be inspired by the influx of information and feel more supported by and satisfied with their career due to development of mentors and mentees within the AmericanHort network.

GG: How valuable are the networking opportunities an event like this provides?

Whealdon: It’s twofold and can’t be overstated; you have the whole industry experience at Cultivate: the booths, the people, and the experts. With an event like this, you can dive deeper and start knowledge sharing with your HR peers, and you can take and build on those relationships throughout the year. But you have to be there, at Cultivate, to get the ball rolling.

Zeijlmaker: I agree with Margaret, the experience at Cultivate really is priceless. The show alone is awe-inspiring, there is so much creativity and excitement. I feel very fortunate that my employer values this event and the continuing education, innovation, and networking.