The overriding theme of the third annual meeting of the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH), held in Atlanta June 27-29, was a shared love for plants and a shared passion for the horticulture industry.
NICH started as an idea to unite all stakeholders in consumer horticulture and get 90% of U.S. households gardening by 2025. Around 80 U.S. green industry leaders and innovators — from academia to commercial growers to associations — pooled their collective brainpower at the meeting and created a strategic plan to achieve that mission.
The plan is centered on several big ideas:
1. Grow consumer horticulture
2. Build unified engagement across consumer horticulture
3. Ensure federal, state and other sources of funding
At the meeting, Marvin Miller of Ball Horticulture imagined another big idea. He saw NICH as a big tent with open sides.
“I was thinking an umbrella was too small and restrictive,” Miller said. “NICH is more like a big tent so people can come under the tent and join the cause, yet have the freedom to be independent for their specific objectives and operate for those specific objectives outside the tent.
“We all can appreciate the opportunity to expand the use of plants and the appreciation for horticulture and grow the horticultural community,” Miller continued. “In my mind, this is where NICH can play a significant role in bringing those with these common goals together.”
Casey Sclar, NICH’s Inaugural Chair and Executive Director of the American Public Gardens Association, continued the tent analogy by noting that NICH welcomes all sectors to gather under this tent and creates one powerful, unified voice to promote the value of plants and ultimately grow all aspects of end-use horticulture.
Optimism Runs Rampant
Attendees at the NICH meeting, ranging from seasoned veterans to millennials, spanned all sectors of consumer horticulture. Here are perspectives from a few other attendees on what they experienced:
• Cammie Donaldson, Executive Director of the Native Plant Horticultural Foundation, joined NICH long before she attended her first meeting in Atlanta. Donaldson and several Florida native plant growers attended the meeting and agreed to support the big tent building process (unification) and anything else they can to move NICH forward.
• This was the first time Beth Tuttle, President & CEO of the American Horticultural Society, attended an NICH meeting. She viewed it as an opportunity to meet some of the true leaders from across the horticultural landscape: industry, government, academia, and nonprofits.
“A coordinated, collective action strategy to advance consumer participation and success in horticulture is the way to instill a culture of gardening in all Americans,” Tuttle said. “We are proud to be a part of this important initiative.”
• For Susan Yoder, Executive Director of Seed Your Future, what was most impressive was the collaborative desire and passion for the big picture.
“Without plants, people — and our planet — will not survive,” Yoder said. “Can we get people to see, appreciate, enjoy, grow, buy, and talk about plants? Yes, we can!”
• First-time attendee Danny Summers, Managing Director of the Garden Center Group, says he was energized by the opportunity to have an impact on what the consumer sees, understands, and buys.
“In my view, this is the first time we have had the opportunity for the entire industry to be singing the same song,” Summers said.
Following the meeting, Summers said he sent an email the next week and asked all of his members and supporters to join NICH, pointing out the grassroots organization is not asking for money.
The meeting concluded with the group motivated, passionate, and action-oriented.
“Our next steps will drive us closer to our end goal of creating a country where everyone loves plants as much as we do,” Sclar says.