Sad news for horticulture education

Last week I found out some rather sad news for horticulture education. The Sustainable Plant Science & Technology (SPST) program at the Career Technical Education Center (CTEC) in Salem, Oregon will be shutting down.

For those of you who don’t know, this program was one of only five in Oregon dedicated to teaching students the technical skills needed for a horticulture career. Skills taught included, professionalism, plant anatomy, plant propagation, tissue culture, hydroponics, molecular methods (DNA extraction and sequencing), and the scientific method, among others. This was the only one in the state taught at the high school level. The other three programs are at community colleges (Chemeketa, Clackamas, and Portland) and at Oregon State University.

Student showing off tissue-cultured plants at CTEC
Teaching tissue culture to high school students at CTEC!

I would like to send my thanks to the instructors, Joey Corcoran, Jasmine Filley, and Luis Valenzuela Estrada for doing their best to promote interest in horticulture to the next generation. You did a fantastic job and I am extremely proud of what you accomplished. At least one of their students used the skills that they learned to become a successful employee at Microplant Nurseries. And, thank you to Microplant Nurseries, Marion Ag Services, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and several other individuals and businesses for being such strong supporters of this program. Without you, we would be so much farther behind in horticulture education.

Although there was support from quite a few local businesses, it was always puzzling why one of the regional grower associations never publicly supported SPST. CTEC tried multiple times to get representatives to visit and write an article, but for some reason it never happened. Which is a shame, because one of the #1 complaints is how there aren’t enough qualified candidates for horticulture positions. To be clear, it’s not that I think this would have made much of a difference in the long run, but support is support and any good publicity helps. Unfortunately, there were just too few students signed up as of last week to keep the program going when school budgets are tight.

Technical high school students studying plant anatomy
CTEC students studying plant anatomy

Now, more than ever, it is important for all of us to support efforts to make students more aware of the career possibilities in horticulture and to support those working towards their degree. The fact is, many of us in horticulture are aging and retiring, and there are an increasing number of nurseries that are closing. I used to count myself among the rare young-uns in the horticulture industry, but now at the age of 49.5, I no longer claim that designation. Special shout out to my friend Ann Amato over at Amateur Bot-ann-ist. You go girl! You’ve got my undying admiration and support. We will do our best to get you to the International Plant Propagators Society meeting next year!

Sustainable Plant Agriculture landing page
Landing page for the program describing their goals

I’ll leave you with a few photos I snapped on Monday, giving what was probably my last guest lecture and demonstration activity.

Students in the Sustainable Plant Science & Technology classroom studying insects and plant diseases
Students in the Sustainable Plant Science & Technology classroom learning about insects and plant diseases
Hydroponic herbs grown by students in the Sustainable Plant Science & Technology program at CTEC
Hydroponic herbs
Hydroponic kohlrabi grown by students in the Sustainable Plant Science & Technology program at CTEC
Hydroponic kohlrabi

Note: The the top four photos are not my own, but were copied from the program’s website in an effort to preserve some of what they accomplished while inspiring the next generation to go into horticulture. And, full disclosure, I do have a personal connection to the program, having provided guest lectures, donated equipment and supplies, among other things. I don’t think that takes away from the importance of it though. I believe strongly in horticulture education. Please, please, please leave a comment if you know of any local horticulture programs that need support. I am already in contact with instructors at Chemeketa Community College, Clackamas Community College, and Oregon State University. But, we need to GROW the network!

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. This is truly heartbreaking. When a young person comes to the nursery and shows an interest in horticulture, we celebrate and encourage as much as possible. It’s pretty rare. Programs like this made it possible to expose young minds to possibilities and a path towards a career working with plants, something we sorely need. Horticulture is a huge industry for Oregon, we need to keep it vital and interesting for the future. Is there any chance of resurrecting it should interest pick up?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It is too early to tell what is going to happen. I’m guessing it won’t come back unless there is a sudden surge in high school students who care about plants. They will need to restructure to offer a program that students will sign up for. Right now they are thinking along the lines of biotechnology or bioscience to target students who might also want to go into veterinary or medical fields. One of the issues is that CTEC is located in Salem and serves primarily students from urban areas. Most successful high school agriculture programs are located in rural areas where the kids have more contact with nature. City kids just don’t have that connection. Still, agricultural programs are struggling nationwide to attract students.

  2. danger garden

    Wow. This is heartbreaking. I remember learning of this program thru one of those three instructors you thanked, and thinking that it was absolutely amazing that there was such a thing. No more. What a profound loss for all.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Yep, it has been sad. They are working to reorganize the class around biotechnology and medical sciences to see if that attracts more students.

  3. Kris P

    This makes me VERY sad. I know of no programs of this kind locally at the high school level but then I’m not tied into the high school community either. There are a variety of programs at various California State University and community colleges, although some may emphasize agriculture rather than horticulture per se. UCLA has an extension program offering a certificate in horticulture but the impression I had of the 2 classes I took there many years ago was that they had a hobby focus. If greater emphasis at the high school level is required to build vocational interest, I suspect there needs to be more exposure at elementary and middle school levels but those programs often get axed, at least in public schools, for budget reasons. When I was still doing school tours at my local botanic garden I was shocked by how little exposure to or knowledge of plants and nature in general the kids (mostly in the 10-14 age category) had – fear of insects in particular were often extreme.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I agree wholeheartedly. We need to start building interest earlier, before high school. The hard part is getting plants into classrooms. I know the middle school and high school teachers are facing a lot pressure to get through as much material as possible in a short amount of time. Not to mention the increasing number of students per classroom. We’ve underfunded education for too long, to our detriment. I’ve noticed that extreme fear of insects too. I brought in a few plant samples from around the yard for demonstration and some of the kids were a little shocked and fearful that there were insects on them. But, still, there were a couple kids that were extremely excited to find a little “crab” (probably a harmless microscorpion or mite) crawling around on some bark and they spent a good 15 minutes looking at it under the microscope.

  4. hb

    What a wonderful program lost. I’d have jumped at a chance at that back in my high school days. I’m sure some s future horticulturalists were created by that program.

    I have a lot of hope for young people and horticulture. With the recent house plant craze it seems like teens and 20somethings are more interested in horticulture than boomers, Gen Xers, etc were at that age. I recently went to a “pop up” plant sale that was mobbed with kids, teens–there is hope, surely!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I’ve got hope too. The freshness and enthusiasm that the newer generations bring to horticulture is inspiring. It was nice to see how excited they were about the plants that I brought into the classroom.

  5. tracy

    Such a disappointment :(. I have hope for the younger generation as well. My kids are in their 20’s and have interest as well as their friends.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      That is good news. Always good to hear that young people are interested in growing plants.

  6. Anna K

    This is definitely a blow. And I just learned a few minutes ago that Skagit (which is a large wholesale nursery up in WA) are closing. We’re definitely moving in the wrong direction as a society. That said, I want to pick up on what hb said. Gen Z is definitely a generation that seem to be into plants. So the timing of this seems off, somehow. I do hope it will resurrect at some point in the near future. And I agree with you that the industry growers should support these types of programs. I really don’t understand why they don’t when it’s entirely in their own interest.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It is heartening to hear that other people do have hope. The nursery closures seem to be coming one on top of the other. Maybe it is just a timing issue, but I bet it is also one of cost. It’s probably pretty hard for somebody young to come up with the cash necessary to buy a nursery when one comes up on the market. I am sure there are a lot of investors who will buy up any nurseries that close down and convert them into something more lucrative.

Leave a Reply