September is back to school time, and that means renewed opportunity to support the young people who are electing to pursue careers in horticulture. I continue to hear from growers of all sizes, from all over the country, that there just are not enough qualified graduates of two- or four-year horticulture programs. We also need to be active in promoting careers in horticulture to those who are not aware of the opportunities available.
There have been some great success stories in this area recently. At University of Florida (UF) last fall, Anna Ball and Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co. joined UF’s Dr. David Clark in an introductory environmental horticulture couse that’s open to any major. After the class, the line of students waiting to talk with Ball, Miller, and Clark was out the door. It is so important, Ball says, for each of us, individually and collectively to continue to promote our industry, which is unlike any other, and the many opportunities available within it.
Efforts like this one are about to take off full steam with Seed Your Future, a national initiative to promote horticulture among U.S. audiences. The initiative has two primary goals:
Change the perception of horticulture by increasing public awareness of the positive and diverse attributes of the profession
Increase the capacity in horticulture through a perception shift that drives talented young people to view horticulture as a vital, viable, and vibrant career path
Seed Your Future aims to increase the number of high school students studying horticulture, and make them aware of careers in our industry; increase the number of two- and four-year horticulture graduates; engage more young people in horticulture organizations; and increase the number of well-trained, well-educated horticulture employees to the industry.
The movement has received unprecedented support. Thus far, it has completed a two-year research phase and raised more than $750,000 in funding from more than 150 organizations, including leaders within our industry. However, there is more yet to do. Your help and any donation you can provide — in time, talent, and treasure —is essential to making Seed Your Future a success. Learn more at SeedYourFuture.org.
Meanwhile, it is absolutely imperative that we continue to support scholarships and research grants for our current horticulture students. As a member of the Board of Trustees for the American Floral Endowment, and representative of Meister Media Worldwide, I review scholarship applications annually for the Richard T. Meister Scholarship, a funding opportunity for graduate and Ph.D. students pursuing careers in horticulture education. It’s a tough job, because the candidates for this scholarship are so impressive that I wish we had endless funds to support them all. This year we had 18 applicants for the Meister scholarship, and 68 applicants for all of the 21 scholarships AFE funds.
In July I had dinner with some of the members of the endowment’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), some of whom I recognized as scholarship applicants. So far, there are 28 members of this group, and we are recruiting! (Endowment.org/ypc) AFE established the YPC in 2015 to enable a vibrant group of students and young industry professionals learn more about the floriculture industry and contribute to the efforts of the endowment.
Their enthusiasm is remarkable and infectious. I can’t remember a time that I have encountered people who have been so excited to be part of something. And these kids are brilliant. If the quality of their resumes is any indication of the future of our industry, I’d say we’re in very good and capable hands.
We have a responsibility to keep the momentum going. As this school year gets started, I urge you to look at what you can do to help support our current students, and to promote horticulture to the students we need for our future. Please join the movement and offer your support in any way you can.