A version published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Jan. 22, 2017, was headlined “Find your 1st (or 2nd) career in horticulture.”
By Barb Gorges
Have you thought about a career in horticulture?
Last fall, the White House announced the “America the Bountiful Initiative” because the number of students currently studying agriculture is not meeting real world job demand. That in turn is causing potential vulnerability of the food supply which is a national security issue. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study in 2015 showed that 35,400 students graduated with ag-related degrees in a year, short of the 59,000 job openings.
Under the program, government agencies, universities and corporations are encouraged to offer incentives: fellowships, scholarships, traineeships and awards.
Sounds like promising career territory, so let’s look at the aspect of interest to gardeners: horticulture.
Horticulture is partly agriculture and although everyone seems to have a different definition of the distinction, horticulture seems to cover everything that’s not large field grain crops or livestock, but includes flowers and landscape plantings.
I decided to talk to Tyler Mason, the horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, to get a better understanding of the field. His career so far exemplifies the possibilities both in educational routes and job opportunities.
Kids will always play in the dirt, but Mason turned that into gardening early on. By age 12 or 13, “I was landscaping for neighbors: mowing, weeding, mulching and planting shrubs. I didn’t think it was work,” he said. Later he began working at a neighborhood landscape nursery.
Mason studied agriculture at Purdue University. “Hort 101,” Mason said, “was the basics of growing plants, pinching, pruning, fertilization, botany.”
He took internships at a retail landscape nursery and scouting for pests for an agronomy company. Then he had an internship at the Purdue Horticulture Greenhouse Gardens (more of a public garden).
After he graduated, he was working in horticultural research at Purdue, but he wanted to work in public gardens and see more of the world. That’s how in 2012 he came to be the assistant education director at the Paul Smith Children’s Village, part of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.
Not only was he teaching, Mason was also responsible for the gardening, with the help of volunteers. An affable man, he can inspire both people and plants to do their best. And he’s also full of energy.
In 2014, Mason signed up for a master’s program at Colorado State University through distance education. His thesis was on volunteer management and he finished within two years. During that time, he became the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ horticulturist that is responsible for everything that grows outside the conservatory—the planting and care of the whole nine acres of themed gardens located within Lions Park.
But now Mason is about to embark on a different tangent. This month he begins work on his doctorate. This time he will go to school fulltime at CSU. In four years he will become a doctor of horticulture. He will be studying specialty crops grown organically and sustainably.
Specialty crops, Mason said, are essentially all that produce you see at farmers markets minus grains (agronomy), wine grapes (viticulture) and fruits of orchards (pomology).
The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Coalition has enlisted northern land grant universities like CSU in researching varieties that do well within the USDA’s specifications for organically grown food. Part of the evaluation is taste. There aren’t many fields of research where you get to eat your subjects.
Which of the many careers in horticulture is Mason looking at when he finishes? Perhaps he’ll be a university extension service vegetable specialist for a state, preferably in the Mountain West, who would consult with growers. Let’s hope he still has time for his own vegetable garden.
The green industry, as it calls itself, employs people with all levels of education and experience.
While Laramie County Community College does not offer a two-year degree in horticulture, it does offer an associate of science degree that includes courses required for a four-year degree at other schools.
Meanwhile, at the University of Wyoming, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Plant Sciences Department offers the “Bachelor of Science Degree in Agroecology.” That is the study of more sustainable agricultural practices.
Courses offered include landscape design, plant materials and their propagation, organic food production, turfgrass science and greenhouse design and maintenance.
Other courses, for plant protection, include agronomy, plant genetics, plant pathology and weed science.
CSU is a much larger university and offers more variety in the horticultural field through the College of Agricultural Sciences. It has the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department which itself has three areas of emphasis:
–Environmental Horticulture which includes everything to know for landscaping, including business, design, management, nursery and turf management.
–Horticulture includes the horticultural version of business management, food crops, science, and therapy (requiring classes in counseling) as well as floriculture (flowers), viticulture (wine) and enology (wine making).
–Landscape architecture studies the relationship between design, nature and society.
Buried in the online catalog you will find the Organic Agriculture Interdisciplinary Minor, www.organic.colostate.edu, in which one studies organic food and fiber production, composting, diagnostics and treatment, microbiology for sustainable agriculture, organic soil fertilizers, crop development techniques and organic greenhouse production.
One doesn’t have to be a horticulturist to work in a horticultural business, though some knowledge of the discipline will help, and eventually rub off on you.
Consider the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. In addition to the horticulturists and the volunteers who grow the plants under their direction, the public garden has employees covering education, volunteer coordination, office management, community relations, and events management.
There are many categories of horticultural work. In which category will you find your first career, or maybe your second?
In December, at www.jobboard.hortjobs.com, there was this list of categories of horticultural positions:
Fruit and Vegetable
Government, Federal, State and Local
Integrated Pest Management
Interiorscape (plants indoors)
Recreation and Sports
Sales, Marketing, PR
Zoos and Attractions