Q&A: Growing young minds

2018 State of the Industry Report - Education

Middle and high school horticulture educators instill skills and a sense of responsibility in their students.

October 2, 2018

Dottie Lankard with one of her classes in Bluestreak Greenhouse in spring 2018
Photo courtesy of Bluestreak Greenhouse’s Facebook page

Some growers have trouble finding young people to work for them. However, these educators are doing what they can to garner an interest and horticulture in children and young adults, while teaching them skills that would translate to the industry and other job markets.

Troy Badeaux is the ag science teacher and FFA adviser at East Ridge High School in Clermont, Florida. For the third year, he is teaching classes and advising activities that are focused on the production of ornamentals in a 30-by-50-foot greenhouse and a 30-by-50-foot shade house, produce in a 25,000-square-foot outdoor garden area and shrubs in a 6,000-square-foot outdoor area. Below, Badeaux answers some questions about how he teaches and motivates his students.

Greenhouse Management: Are your classes electives?

Troy Badeaux: It is an elective, but in some cases, it also counts as a science credit ... You get kids that get in there, and they don’t like it. You get kids in there that do like it. What we have in our school — and now it’s our whole district — is something called flex time scheduling. [It’s] basically a 45-minute period where the kids ... go where they need to go. I get anywhere from 20 to 60 kids who say, ‘Let me do this,’ and some of them are my students, and some of them aren’t. But what I’m finding is some of the ones that aren’t my students — they like what they do, they like the course and they end up taking my class the following year.

GM: Could you describe the work that they’re doing with the plants? Are they sticking cuttings and transplanting?

TB: I explain to them the definition of work protocol, if you will, and how different plants have different protocols — there are different things you’re going to do to propagate different plants. Sometimes different plants have the same protocol. You’ll do the same for a pentas that you will for a coleus. Then the Mexican Heather is like a little bit different, but you’ll do the same protocol for the Mexican Heather that you would the Mexican oregano. Sometimes with a Sansevieria or mother-in-law’s tongue, there’s a certain protocol for that. Some plants need a little woodier cutting than others. Let them stick a variety of that and see how that takes or doesn’t take.

GM: Have you had students go on and pursue this as a major, or find anything right out of high school, that would fit within the horticulture/agriculture/landscaping career path?

TB: I had a couple kids last year who were trying to go that way as a career path, so I at least tried to give them the experience. I’ve got one kid right now that’s got a part-time job in that specific area, so he’s able to take what he learns in class and bring it to the job site, and vice versa. Stuff that he does on the job site, he’s able to bring to the classroom ... I can say, ‘Look, this is what we’re doing.’ And then he helps pick up the pace. ... I just let the kids know, and I tell them, ‘What we’re trying to do is build a culture — build something that will always be a part of you, that you’ll always carry. You’ll always be a part of it, and it will always be a part of you.’ And those kids, man, once they started developing a little more self-motivation — not just the fact that they’re learning horticultural skills. They’re learning soft skills. They’re learning to take the initiative.

Plants growing in the 30-by-50-foot greenhouse at East Ridge High School
Photo courtesy of Troy Badeaux

After 19 years in her role, Dottie Lankard, supervisor at Bluestreak Greenhouse at Neodesha Middle-High School in Neodesha, Kansas, has expanded her program to include four classes for 7th through 12th-graders. These include a greenhouse class that grows poinsettias, hanging baskets and other crops in a 30-by-60-foot greenhouse; an interiorscapes class that is focused on patio plants; a shop class that includes woodworking tasks; and an administrative class that selects plants, creates a master planting schedule and pays all the bills. Below, Lankard answers some questions about how she has made her program a success.

Greenhouse Management: Is the greenhouse class during both the spring and the fall semesters?

Dottie Lankard: Mostly, we just call it shop class in the fall because the classes look different in the fall semester than they do in the spring semester. ... I say it’s greenhouse students in the spring. And one of the things I do with those kids — once they get done planting seeds, plugs, cuttings, whatever we’re doing ... I teach the kids how to count change and how to run the cash register, and then start giving them those soft skills — how to wait on a customer, how to say, ‘hello,’ how to greet a customer. We spend probably anywhere from four to six weeks of that springtime when we’re done planting, when we’re waiting for everything to grow — that’s when they start learning how to run the registers so that when we’re open, [they’re ready]. The open days are really exciting. I’ve had as many as 60 to 75 people come into that little 30-by-60 greenhouse on opening day.

GM: Do you sell everything that is grown in the greenhouse?

DL: We sure do. I take the interior plants [that sit the entire school year in the commons area] home and baby them over the summertime. ... Everything in the greenhouse sells because I don’t want to have to water it over the summertime. We start fresh every year. Another thing we do is, when we’re done selling — and we only have like a two-week span where we sell to the public — we sit down and take a look at what sold well, what went first, what did we have to sell at half price. Since we went retail [10 years ago], we have been budget-free. We’re self-sustaining. The district doesn’t give me money to run this program.

GM: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this experience?

DL: It’s been great. I get some kids who have no idea they even like plants. They just thought it would be easier than the other alternative they had for class choices. Some students — not all — but sometimes I will get a student come through my program for six years. That’s where I see the most improvement. And that’s awesome. Not many teachers get to watch a student grow and change and mature like that.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.