Seed Your Future adjusts aim for high school, college students
Screencap of a BLOOM! promotional video featuring Houston Snead, Jacksonville Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Seed Your Future/BLOOM!

Seed Your Future adjusts aim for high school, college students

At Cultivate'19, SYF updated attendees on its plans to inspire young people to pursue careers in horticulture.

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July 15, 2019

The Horticultural Research Institute has continued to support the efforts of Seed Your Future (SYF), the movement to promote horticulture and inspire more young people to pursue careers working with plants.

Anna Ball, president and CEO of the Ball Horticultural Company, is part of Seed Your Future’s National Leadership Cabinet. She spoke to a crowd at Cultivate’19 about how the organization is meeting the challenge of attracting young people to horticulture.

There is a need for all sorts of jobs, not just the traditional “green collar” jobs. For instance, a bright young marketer may be able to figure out how to get today’s apartment-dwelling “plant parents” to start gardening once they buy a house. Or if a student doesn’t know anything about horticulture and how to grow plants but is interested in international business, there is certainly a place for them in the green industry, as well.

“When I see young people, I want to tell them about these things and to come into the industry and figure them out,” Ball said. “If you’re a young person, you can come into this industry and make these things happen. We are small enough that one person can make a huge difference – even change the future of the industry. We need to think beyond the greenhouse when we think about these jobs.”

While a partnership with Scholastic has helped SYF reach 2 million kids already with the BLOOM! campaign, the people driving SYF’s direction have heard the industry’s feedback loud and clear. Teaching middle school kids about horticulture careers is great, but the industry needs workers now.

“This is what you asked for last year – continue with middle school but you’ve got to do something for high school and college students,” said Susan E. Yoder, executive director of SYF. “You better start getting the word out about all those hort careers.”

Working toward a goal of providing resources for students, SYF created the career exploration tool, which you can find at www.seedyourfuture.org/careers.

There are currently 102 careers listed. For each, a description of what the job entails is provided, as well as training/education requirements, salary expectations, available scholarships, internships and more.

Another fact SYF found through its research was that there are 4,600 horticulture students in two-year vocational/community colleges compared to 4,100 in four-year land-grant institutions. That surprised Yoder and convinced her that the industry as a whole needs to pay more attention to those two-year colleges.

On top of that, SYF’s research also found that two-thirds of horticulture students transfer into hort from something else.

“Once people find out about horticulture they’re excited about it,” Yoder said. “They just need to find out about it.”

Members of the green industry can help SYF in its efforts in a few ways.

“We need more young, cool people to talk about their plant jobs,” Yoder said.

SYF has released 23 youth-focused videos on its YouTube channel, Youtube.com/WeAreBLOOM. Yoder showed one particularly popular video, featuring “plantkeeper” Houston Snead of the Jacksonville Zoo and Botanical Garden. The video appeals to kids by describing Snead’s job in way that doesn’t require technical expertise. For instance, he grows ginger for “gorilla snacks.” The video then shows how Snead interacts with his co-workers and feeding the gorillas, who clearly enjoy their snacks.

Another way green industry allies can help with SYF’s goal is by participating in the #ILoveMyPlantJob campaign. This social media campaign to increase visibility of “green collar” careers has been translated into seven languages. Take pictures of yourselves in the field and post them on your social media of choice, using the hashtag. There have been 2,000 unique posts in the campaign so far, not including SYF’s own, Yoder said.

Cole Mangum, Bell Nursery’s vice president of production and a member of SYF’s National Leadership Cabinet, also sees the need for SYF’s work.

“I’m 34 now and I’ve been coming for 10 years to this trade show,” he said. “I was the youngest person in most of the rooms I was in then. I’m still usually one of the youngest in the room now. That’s a problem. We need to bring young people back to the industry.”

Mangum said Bell Nursery reached out to the University of Maryland, letting university leadership know the Elkridge, Md. company was looking to grow the pipeline of people coming to its industry. He said the deans were happy to open their doors when you say you’re hiring. But he needed to make the effort to find those potential employees.

“You can’t sit back and wait for applications to come to your door,” he said.